Harvard Committee Tasked with Enforcing Penalties on Single-Sex Student Organizations

Joseph Williams/Wikimedia Commons

The Harvard Honors Council has been tasked by administrators with enforcing penalties on members of single-gender social groups who seek “leadership position or athletic captaincy.”

According to The Harvard Crimson, starting with the class of 2021, students seeking leadership roles on athletic teams or in student organizations must sign a pledge that confirms they won’t take part in a single-gender social group.

Under the recommendations, students, starting with the class of 2021, who seek leadership positions, captaincies, or fellowships will have to sign a written statement affirming their commitment to “nondiscrimination on the basis of characteristics of ‘intrinsic identity,’ including gender.” Students will also have to affirm they do not currently belong to a single-gender final club or Greek organization, did not belong to one in the past year, and will not belong to one the year after their tenure in a leadership position or athletic captaincy ends.

Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana, the same dean who pushed dropping the term “master” in favor of “faculty dean,” instructed the Honor Council to help carry out enforcement of the penalty against students participating in both single-sex social groups and leadership positions on campus. In January, after faculty criticism of the policy, Khurana created a task force to address the criticisms and reconsider the policy.

Last May, Khurana argued that single-gender social groups have led to an environment at Harvard that is based on social power imbalances and oppression.

“Discrimination is pernicious,” Khurana wrote. “Stereotypes and bias take hold, normalizing bias in a community, which should be unacceptable. In this case, the discriminatory membership policies of these organizations have led to the perpetuation of spaces that are rife with power imbalances. The most entrenched of these spaces send an unambiguous message that they are the exclusive preserves of men.”

Douglas Melton, co-chair of the implementation committee, claimed that the policy was proposed to enact social change at Harvard.

“Generally what we’re trying to help the College do is effect a cultural change and that won’t happen with one policy or in one month or in one year,” Melton said. “We’re not of the view that if [Khurana] followed our recommendations then next term everything would be picture perfect.”

Although it’s unclear what effect this would have on the Harvard community, the social change intended is to transition single-gender social groups to co-ed status. An article in Vox argues that participation in single-sex social groups, particularly for male students, contributes to an increase in sexual violence on campus.

The report additionally lays out a path to recognition for social groups transitioning from single-gender to co-ed status, creating a temporary “provisional social organization” designation for clubs who reconstitute themselves with “new characteristics and new goals.” According to the document, which can be read in its entirety at The Harvard Crimson, must maintain “non-discriminatory membership requirements” and practice “local governance and autonomy.”

“We intend that this bridge period enable these groups to make the transition to an open social status,” the report states, “with the understanding that the positive contributions of those organizations to the campus community would be assessed in three to five years.”

Tom Ciccotta is a libertarian who writes about education and social justice for Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @tciccotta or email him at tciccotta@breitbart.com