Education

Harvard Expands Draconian Crackdown on Single-Sex Student Groups

Statue of John Harvard on the Cambridge campus (Photo: Golasza/Dreamstime)
Newly announced sanctions would punish students who join officially unrecognized male- or female-only groups.

In a follow-up to last May’s announcement of penalties for students who choose to join officially unrecognized single-gender social organizations, including fraternities, sororities, and final clubs (all of which are off-campus and receive no university resources), Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana has released the long-awaited report of the committee that is designing the policy.

The report recommends that members of these groups be denied an even larger number of scholarships, fellowships, and awards than originally planned, most prominent among them the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. Members will also be ineligible to lead athletic teams or recognized student organizations, and to receive post-graduate fellowships. Harvard has thus conferred second-class status on students who choose to join outside groups of which it disapproves — a dangerous precedent that could be punish members of any groups deemed “unworthy” or “unrepresentative” of the university’s mission.

The Implementation Committee that wrote the report defended its decision, claiming that it is noble to be “intolerant of intolerance.” But there is nothing inherently intolerant about wanting to spend your free time in a single-gender environment. Harvard President Drew Faust should know this better than most: As an undergrad, she attended the all-female Bryn Mawr College. And yet she seems determined to eradicate much less extreme single-gender environments at Harvard.

There’s plenty such hypocrisy to go around here, of course. Take, for example, the report’s disparate treatment of women’s and men’s organizations. Khurana’s e-mail to students states that “historical inequities faced by women in College social life may require that we provide additional resources for certain organizations to transition into inclusive organizations,” addressing the report’s endorsement of “continuing to allow the female final clubs and sororities to operate with gender focused missions, with the understanding that the positive contributions of those organizations to the campus community would be assessed in three to five years.” Men’s groups will not be similarly allowed to continue their operations, although existing, recognized single-gender groups, including the Black Men’s Forum and the Asian American Women’s Association, will not be affected at all because they are already under the university’s jurisdiction.

The university has also put a freeze on the filing of applications for official recognition by new student organizations during the spring 2017 term, so that students involved in lesser-known unrecognized organizations will not be able to gain recognition, and therefore exemption from the penalties, before they are put in place this fall.

While Harvard’s leadership rarely answers to anyone for its actions, the sanctions have nevertheless faced more resistance than the administration publicly recognizes. Students’ ability to respond was initially stunted by the strategic timing of the announcements — May’s decree occurred at the start of final exams, and March’s during midterms — but in a November student-body referendum, two-thirds of voters expressed a desire to repeal the sanctions. This refutes the report’s assertion that there is a “clear consensus” on campus that the status quo is untenable. A number of faculty members have also criticized and questioned the policy, though the faculty as a whole has left its decision on the policy to a Faculty Committee tasked with analyzing the new report.

This is a university that claims to accept students it deems uniquely able to excel and grow during their college years, a university that last year accepted only 5.4 percent of applicants. And yet administrators are imposing these overbearing and paternalistic sanctions on students in the name of “inclusion.” This latest salvo in Harvard’s unending battle to weed out student activity that offends liberal ideas of “community” is unworthy of the university and its students.

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