In fall 2018, Harvard imposed sanctions that punish members of single-sex student organizations. Under the initiative, members of fraternities, sororities or all-women’s or all-men’s clubs were effectively blacklisted and made ineligible for leadership roles on athletic teams and Harvard organizations, as well as for post-graduate fellowships and scholarships. Despite uproar from protesting faculty, students and parents, the decision was pushed through, which has led to the Stand Up to Harvard movement.
The affected off-campus private organizations that once thrived at Harvard are now struggling to recruit and maintain membership, forcing several of them to cease operations. Because members of single-sex organizations made up a quarter of the entire student population, students of Harvard reached out to sororities and fraternities at colleges across the country to bring awareness to their cause. As of Feb. 25, the Stand Up to Harvard movement has influenced over 60,000 people to sign its petition in support of students’ rights.
On Dec. 3, 2018, Greek-life and other single-sex organizations of Harvard filed a federal and state lawsuit against the university. According to them, “[Harvard used] a campaign of threats and intimidation to scare students into abandoning their fundamental rights to free association and to live free of sex discrimination.”
Unfortunately, in their latest update posted on Feb. 17, the author reports Harvard’s attorneys filed to dismiss the lawsuits. The battle between impassioned students and administrators continues though, and the students are desperate for support.
Harvard claims preventing sexual violence is the primary rationale for discouraging off-campus single-sex organizations. However, students argue the university is contradicting themselves. They write, “[Harvard’s] own data shows that nearly 90% of non-consensual contact occurs in university-run dorms under Harvard’s direct control.”
Therefore, there is no evidence proving that off-campus groups in private buildings independent of the university are more susceptible to sexual assault. Students have also argued that dismantling sororities fails to prevent sexual violence against women or support women who have endured non-consensual contact.
In reality, young women studying at Harvard have felt strong backlash from these sanctions, as an entire section of the Stand Up to Harvard movement’s website criticizes. Seven points listed in the “Women’s Spaces Erased” section describe how the sanctions are negatively impacting females on campus.
“Forcing sororities and women’s final clubs, through threats and intimidation of their members, to admit men disrupts the missions and expressive characteristics of the groups founded on the basis of sisterhood and designed to create environments in which women could support and empower one another,” one student writes.
At a time when American society is trying to change the misconception that women are unequal to men, the Stand Up to Harvard movement stresses that denying young women the right to unify unless they admit men is a confusing step backward. If they so please, women and men alike should be able to come together and express themselves without imposition on the opposite sex.
The activists complain that stripping college students of this freedom inhibits them from expressing themselves in ways that are only possible in a single-sex group. At the bottom of the “Women’s Space Erased” page, there is brief clip of a speech given by a former sorority president at Harvard, stating how her sorority gave her a space to be vulnerable.
The Stand Up to Harvard movement emphasizes that because college is the most stressful part of most students’ lives, they need a place to be vulnerable. Single-sex organizations offer a great resource for students to confide personal feelings, as sometimes a person can best express themselves in the company of the same sex.
Another reason Harvard cited for the sanctions is that sororities and fraternities separate students into subgroups. On the Stand Up to Harvard movement’s website, they make a substantive rebuttal to the myopic outlook.
The former Dean of Harvard College said, “By reaching into the private associations of Harvard students and declaring some of them to be, in essence, ‘suppressive persons’ because of their nonconformity, you are, I fear, passing from creating a community to molding a monoculture, in which people of whom we have every reason to be proud are afraid to do or say things that are lawful.”
The former Dean expresses how these sanctions prevent students from acting freely, while causing the community to interact in an unhealthy and artificial fashion. Operating outside the direct constraints of the university fosters natural and creative thought, and Harvard is at risk of losing the organic makeup of its community by punishing students for joining these organizations.
Personally, as a member of Theta Chi Fraternity Zeta Chapter at the University of New Hampshire, I could not imagine being punished for forming a brotherhood or sisterhood. My fraternity has a strong anti-hazing policy that we strictly follow, and we give young men opportunities to take leadership roles and expand their college experience, as well as offer a strong support system for members when school or life gets hectic.
For confused underclassmen, fraternities provide a channel to get involved on campus, give back to the community and raise money for charitable causes. Meanwhile, members can connect with other guys who are experiencing the same stress while adjusting to college. They also have older guys that had been in their shoes who can give important advice on how to succeed, as well as the home away from home so many students desperately need.
Join the fight for students’ rights and sign the Stand Up to Harvard movement’s petition to prevent colleges from adopting similar sanctions against single-sex organizations.