Harvard all-male final club hires consulting firm to rebut sexual assault stats

The consulting firm's analysis challenged the University's use of sexual assault data on campus.

The interior of the Porcellian Club, a final club at Harvard University, in 1909.
The interior of the Porcellian Club, a final club at Harvard University, in 1909. –The Boston Globe

Harvard’s oldest all-male final club hired a statistical consulting firm to analyze the school’s sexual assault data in an attempt to rebut a report that connected all-male final clubs with sexual assault, The Harvard Crimson reports.

Porcellian Club graduate board president David T. Lawrence wrote in a letter to Harvard administrators that the social club had commissioned an analysis from Welch Consulting that addressed what he called the “flaws” and “misleading talking points” put forth by administrators.

After looking at the data of sexual assault instances on campus, the consulting firm’s analyst writes that the connection between sexual assault and final clubs is essentially “meaningless.”

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“In sum, this survey does not contain any data that would allow an analyst to support the recommendations of the Task Force that pertain to Final Clubs,” the analysis writes in a report obtained by The Crimson.

The Harvard University administration’s recent push to make single-sex final clubs go co-ed has partly rested on data presented by the school’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Prevention. Citing a University-wide survey, the task force issued a report that found that 31 percent of female Harvard seniors had experienced non-consensual sexual contact since entering college. Among female seniors who had “participated” in the final clubs, though, that number jumped to 47 percent.

That 47 percent data point has been one key to the report’s scathing criticisms of all-male final clubs in particular. The report said that the final clubs hold “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and “perpetuate gender inequity and an unhealthy social climate, including sexual harassment and assault.”

But the analysis from Welch Consulting takes issue with the underlying data that led the task force to that conclusion.

“The 47 [percent] figure does not provide any meaningful information about whether there is any relationship between Final Clubs and nonconsensual sexual contact,” writes Dr. Jora Stixrud, an economist who specializes in cases involving allegations of gender and race discrimination.

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In particular, Stixrud writes that the 47 percent number had three main flaws. For one, it singled out final clubs without statistically proving that they were different from other groups on campus. In addition, the analysis argued that the wording of the survey question—asking about those who “participated” in final clubs—was too “too nebulous to be meaningful.” Finally, the report said the task force report confused correlation and causation.

“As an example of how meaningless the figure is in any consideration of the topic of sexual contact and male Final Clubs, a woman who received an unwanted kiss in her dorm room while a freshman would be counted as part of this figure if she later joined an all-female Final Club in her sophomore year,” Stixrud writes.

In a follow-up interview, Stixrud said the Porcellian Club had paid the standard hourly rate for the report. She declined to comment on that cost.

The prior Porcellian Club graduate board president, Charles M. Storey, resigned from the position after facing sharp criticism for suggesting that adding women to the all-male clubs could increase sexual assaults.

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