In an ironic turn of events, four Greek organizations filed lawsuits against Harvard University on Monday, December 3, over a policy which penalizes members of unrecognized single gender social organizations, referred to as USGSOs. The lawsuits, one of which was filed by two sororities at the state level, and the other, which was filed at the federal level by a group of three fraternities, two sororities, and three students, argue that the University’s policy violates rights granted by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Harvard, one of the oldest and most storied institutions in higher education in America, decided on December 5, 2017 to maintain the controversial policy on USGSO’s. The policy currently in place, which can be found on Harvard.edu, was approved in March 2016 and reads:
“In May 2016, Harvard College announced a new policy stating that beginning with the class of 2021, undergraduates at Harvard College, who are also members of USGSOs, will not be permitted to hold leadership positions in recognized student organizations or on athletic teams and that they will also not be eligible for letters of recommendation from the Danoff Dean of Harvard College for scholarship opportunities, including the Rhodes and the Marshall.”
The policy, which applies to undergraduate members enrolled at the school, affects chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Chi and Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternities, Alpha Phi and Delta Gamma Sororities, as well as the numerous Final Clubs on campus. The members of these organizations, which are unrecognized by the school, are now unfairly recognized as being unable to hold positions in their own schools’ organizations.
Harvard’s reasoning behind the policy was that the USGSO’s “run counter to Harvard's long-standing non-discrimination principles, and have an outsized and negative impact on the social and personal experiences of Harvard College students” and that “This requires us to create a community where students have the fair opportunity to engage in curricular and extracurricular activities regardless of their gender, socioeconomic status, or other attributes unrelated to merit,” according to Harvard.edu and a press release by then Harvard president Drew Faust and William F. Lee, Senior Fellow of the Harvard Corporation on December 5 2017, respectively. In addition, the university claims that increased risk of Sexual Assault a USGSO’s was also a factor in the policy. Furthermore, the University has not formally recognized any fraternity or sorority since 1984, but in the same press release, Faust admits “These organizations are very much of Harvard…”.
It appears the university now wants to have jurisdiction over a community it severed ties with back in the 80’s. According to a Harvard campus survey, the student body was roughly in half on whether or not Single Sex organizations affected the campus negatively, with a slight majority of 54% saying the impact of USGSO’s on the Harvard community is negative.
Next, we looked into the claim that Harvard’s policy seeks to “…create a community where students have the fair opportunity to engage in curricular and extracurricular activities regardless of their gender, socioeconomic status, or other attributes unrelated to merit.” Because of the last line of this statement, the policy works against the purported mission against the university, since membership in a USGSO is unrelated to the school and therefore unrelated to merit. It is then unfair for the school to bar a student from engaging in curricular and extracurricular activities because of membership in a group unrelated to school. As the policy stands, a student in the American Nazi Party would be eligible to have a campus leadership position, while a brother of Sigma Chi could not. A woman who is an active member in the Klu Klux Klan is allowed to be a leader in a campus organization, where as a sister of Alpha Phi is barred because of her membership. The message Harvard University is currently sending with the policy it has in place is that it would rather have its students involved in the KKK and the American Nazi Party than to be members in Greek organizations, because the recognized hate groups are co-ed organizations.
After looking into the numbers, the study of sexual assault on Harvard’s campus which the university referenced in the reasoning behind the policy, actually found that on page 159 in table 3.5a titled “Percent of Female Victims of Nonconsensual Penetration Involving Physical Force or Incapacitation by Time Occurred During Year, Location of Incident and by Tactic”, only 2.6 and 2.8 percent of all respondents reported sexual assault by force and by incapacitation, respectively, occurred at fraternity and sorority houses, with which the university has no jurisdiction or affiliation. Conveniently left out of Harvard’s statement is that 87 percent and 87.6 percent of report assaults occurred in on-campus dormitories, well under the watch of the University. This question is why Harvard chose to grossly exaggerate the risk women face at USGSO’s while ignoring the glaring source of the problem in their on-campus dormitories.
Finally, Reuters reported that members of Harvard’s administration privately referred to the complete wiping out of single gender female organizations on campus as “Collateral Damage” in the school’s effort to punish men in all male organizations. If true, this proves that Harvard used the ban to target all male groups, which violates title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972.
The now-organized resistance to the policy, falling under the banner of Stand Up to Harvard, argues that the school’s policy is in violation with the constitutional right to peacefully assemble, which also exists in the Massachusetts Constitution, and violates Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972. The two lawsuits aim to suspend the policy while the cases work their way through the legal process. After the lawsuits were filed, 66 national Fraternities under the North American Interfraternity Conference and 24 national Sororities as part of the National Panhellenic Conference came out in support of the Harvard chapters.
According to the website standuptoharvard.org, members of USGSO’s have received calls from university officials urging them to comply with the policy.
Currently, the policy is still in place, and almost all the organizations not involved in the lawsuits have either closed down or gone co-ed to comply with the controversial policy. Harvard’s policy was enacted in March of 2016 and was held in place by a vote of the Harvard Corporation in December of 2017, which also voted to review the effectiveness of the policy in five years.
The 2015 Final Report on the Harvard Specific Survey conducted by the AAU and the Harvard Sexual Assault Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct can be found here.
Harvard’s office media resource on the Policy on USGSO’s can be found here.
Harvard’s official December 5 2017 Press Release by Drew Faust and William F. Lee can be found here.
Link to Harvard Gazette’s Story on the December 5 2017 Vote to uphold the policy by the Harvard Corporation can be found here.
The Reuters article reporting on the lawsuits against Harvard by multiple social organizations filed December 3 2018 can be found here.
Stand Up To Harvard can be found here.