Harvard women protest ‘blacklist’ targeting single-sex clubs
By Evan Lips | May 10, 2016, 17:49 EST
CAMBRIDGE – Women in Harvard College sororities and other gender-exclusive organizations are fighting back after administrators at the Ivy League school announced that future students who join off-campus single-sex social groups will be banned from holding campus leadership posts and from pursuing prestigious post-graduate opportunities like Marshall and Rhodes scholarships.
The new policies were outlined to students Friday and appear to target the centuries-old all-male Final Clubs over perceptions that the privately operated clubs are breeding grounds for sexual assault. But they also single out all-women Final Clubs as well as sororities, leading to concerns that the rules impose collective punishment on a wide range of students for the misdeeds of a few.
On Monday evening, hundreds of Harvard women marched on historic Harvard Yard to protest the policy move:
— Ramsey Fahs (@ramseyfahs) May 9, 2016
In an interesting twist, the female students’ chants for “safe spaces” appeared to be efforts to tell administrators that women-only organizations like sororities have actually protected them against sexual misconduct on campus, whereas the school itself has not.
— Flavia Cuervo (@FlaviaCuervo) May 9, 2016
— Ariane Litalien (@ArianeLitalien) May 9, 2016
— Greg Kee (@Mr_Kee_Gann) May 10, 2016
According to statements released Friday by Harvard University President Drew Faust and college Dean Rakesh Khurana, the new rules won’t apply to current students or incoming undergraduates this fall. Instead, they will kick in when the class of 2021 arrives on campus next year.
“We do expect leaders of our athletic teams, our recognized student groups, and those seeking a dean’s endorsement to share in the college’s responsibility of fostering a non-discriminatory culture at Harvard,” Khurana wrote. Marshall and Rhodes scholarship applications require a dean’s endorsement.
Single-sex organizations, Faust asserted, “play an unmistakable and growing role in student life, in many cases enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values.” These groups, she said, “encourage a form of self-segregation that undermines the promise offered by Harvard’s diverse student body.”
Critics pointed out the hypocrisy of an ultra-exclusive school punishing exclusive social clubs that aren’t formally affiliated with the institution:
— Ari Cohn (@AriCohn) May 10, 2016
The school that rejects 95% of its applicants is now telling fraternities to cut the exclusivity nonsense or else.. https://t.co/xgrWi4rCI4
— Jeremiah House (@jeremiahhouse08) May 10, 2016
Writing in the National Review, sophomore Emily Hall described the new sanctions as a form of “blacklisting” and criticized the school for being inconsistent, pointing out that Harvard in 1984 broke formal ties with social organizations such as Final Clubs, fraternities and sororities, thus relinquishing jurisdiction over the organizations (but not its members who are students). At the same time, she noted, the school leaves alone more than 20 on-campus groups that maintain single-sex focus, not to mention all of its Division 1 sports teams that are sex segregated.
Hall declared that the administration’s new policy reeks of hypocrisy.
“It’s not as though Harvard is displaying principled, universal opposition to single-sex organizations,” Hall wrote. “Consider: At least twenty out of 385 recognized organizations, and all of our NCAA Division I sports teams, have a single-sex focus.”
“In fact, the Office of Student Life’s website even features a category of clubs called ‘Women’s Initiatives,’ including a number of organizations that advertise to women only.”
In a post that was shared on social media, sophomore Aaron Slipper wrote that Harvard administrators ignore “the principles of freedom of speech and association” by punishing “individuals for belonging to a group outside the university whose values are politically unpopular within the university.”
The devastating student response that explodes Harvard’s hypocrisy and double standards on same-sex social groups: https://t.co/ehwQKpEDCH
— Adam Kissel (@AdamKissel) May 9, 2016
Slipper also questioned the “factualness” of the campus sexual assault climate surveys, completed anonymously by students last year. The results, released last fall, have had a significant influence on the scrutiny leveled at men-only Final Clubs.
In March, a school sexual assault task force report that relied in part on the sex-assault survey featured a scathing indictment of the all-male clubs, claiming that “female Harvard College students participating in Final Club activities are more likely to be sexually assaulted than participants in any other of the student organizations we polled.”
The report relied heavily on the climate survey, which claimed that 1-in-5 Harvard women were sexually assaulted in some way during their four years on campus. The task force even went so far as to recommend that students choosing to join the male-only clubs should risk expulsion.
The survey, however, deliberately omitted specific words like “rape” and “assault” in its questions on concern that the terms could “trigger” discomfort for some students.
“When asking about sexual assault and sexual misconduct, the questions used descriptions of specific types of behaviors and tactics,” the report notes. “Words such as “rape” and “assault” were specifically avoided so that respondents would use a set of uniform definitions when reporting on the types of events that were of interest.”
Slipper wrote that students are afraid to question the results of the surveys as doing so could cause negative repercussions.
“I believe this is due to a curious intolerance against those who do not blithely accept often-touted dogma, as well as, perhaps, a certain amount of ignorance about how to judge such statistical claims,” he wrote. “Certainly, in writing this at the moment, I am experiencing a great amount of anxiety over what people might accuse me of in offering a platform to arguments attempting to refute campus sexual-assault surveys.
“Will I be accused of erasing the experiences of sexual-assault victims? Of being “part of the problem?”
The school is listening to a mixture of reactions but has no plans to rethink its decision, Rachel Dane, a university spokeswoman, told the New Boston Post on Tuesday.
“In recent days, we have received messages of support from many members of the broad college community, including current students and alumni and current and former members of single-gender social organizations, including both male and female Final Clubs,” Dane said by email. “We have also, as you know, received messages of concern and opposition. As we noted Friday, change is difficult and is often met initially by opposition.”
“That was certainly true with past steps to remove gender barriers at Harvard, yet few today would reverse those then-controversial decisions,” Dane said. “We continue to believe that gender discrimination has no place on Harvard’s campus. At the same time, we support the right of every community member to express their views.”