On Monday, Dec. 3, two fraternities and sororities sued Harvard University over their single-sex social organization policy. This lawsuit was filed by national sororities, Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, and by national fraternities, Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the suit is supported by the National Panhellenic Association and the North American Interfraternity Conference. It should not have come to lawsuits, because the policy that Harvard is enacting directly attacks single-sex organizations that are a safe haven to many.
To put the situation in perspective, in February 2016, Harvard University withdrew recognition from over 20 organizations and their policy was meant to prevent discrimination against other students, but has instead discriminated against the members of these organizations. Harvard never “officially” endorses fraternities or sororities but their policy specifically names fraternities and sororities on their campus.
This policy sections out students who have chosen to pursue a single-sex social organization – including fraternities and sororities – and forces students to make a choice between the tradition of their organization, or abstaining from being a leader elsewhere on campus. The policy is unfair and ends many traditions that Harvard has tried to keep intact since 1636.
This policy doesn’t prevent students from joining same-sex organizations but prevents the students from being captains of sports teams and leading other on campus organizations. The policy also would not allow students that are part of same-sex organizations to receive certain scholarships and fellowships including, the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. This policy was suggested by a faculty committee with the intent of curbing the “discrimination, elitism and influence” that these organizations have on campus.
In a 22 page report, Harvard stated they withdrew their recognition of these social organizations based upon “the belief that students should not be excluded from structured campus activities and organizations solely on the basis of their gender.”
This report also accused male only clubs of having “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and then blamed the clubs for the sexual assault problems at the university.
In this report, students have given their testimonials to display why organizations should be gender-neutral, but that this ban would not work. An anonymous student of the Harvard Class of 2017 said it best when they accepted that gender-neutral clubs should exist, but even their existence wouldn’t end the exclusivity that Harvard is trying to curb.
“Yes, going co-ed might improve club culture by causing men to think twice before making sexist jokes or treating women–now members rather than just guests–simply as objects of sexual desire … But co-ed will never solve–and, in fact, might reinforce–the exclusionary nature of social life at Harvard,” said an anonymous Harvard student.
Harvard has given these organizations the option to receive recognition if they implement gender-neutral policies, but because some of these organizations are chapters of national organizations, they do not have control over this.
Most fraternities and sororities at Harvard have either disbanded, or formed co-ed groups in retaliation to this policy.
Obviously, exclusivity is an issue that college campuses are trying to combat, but Harvard and their policies aren’t going to solve this issue for the rest of the country. Fraternity and sorority life exists across the country and in most cases, the effects are positive. Members of fraternities and sororities are gaining leadership and social skills that usually propel these members to take other leadership roles on their campus.
The allegations that single-sex organizations are direct catalysts of rape culture are preposterous and truly insult the men that are part of same-sex organizations. Rape culture is an issue on most college campuses, and even exists on campuses that do not have fraternity and sorority life. This blame should not be placed upon men in single-sex organizations and essentially claim that those who are not in these organizations are not the issue.
Sexual assault and rape culture are such large issues that the entire student body should be held accountable, not just those who belong to same-sex organizations.
Punishing students who belong to same-sex exclusive organizations is appalling. Not allowing these students to apply for the Rhodes scholarships, or the Marshall scholarships is alienating them from pursuing the highest level of education they can achieve. Students shouldn’t be penalized for belonging to a fraternity or sorority, let alone have their education affected by this policy.
Preventing students from obtaining other leadership roles at Harvard because of their associations is ridiculous. If a student is qualified for a position, their affiliations shouldn’t affect that.
Harvard’s ban is asking too much from single-sex organizations and puts organizations with the ability to be fluid with their gender neutrality on a pedestal. Asking same-sex organizations to become co-ed eliminates the traditions that these groups have established for hundreds of years.
Fraternities were established so men could have a place to connect and interact with each other. Sororities were established so women could ban together and create a sisterhood with a bond that is bigger than themselves. Trying to force these organizations to become co-ed goes against their bylaws and their governing documents and essentially tarnishes the values that their founders created these organizations on.
Opinions expressed in The Nevada Sagebrush are solely those of the author and do not necessarily express the views of The Sagebrush or of its staff. Jacey Gonzalez is a student at the University of Nevada and studies journalism. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.