Harvard University’s announcement on Friday—that it would place sanctions on all single-gender social groups—is the latest step in an ongoing effort by the university to address the inequality perpetuated by and inherent to many of these organizations. The new policy, which applies to final clubs, fraternities, and sororities, prevents anyone who is a member of these groups from becoming the leader of a recognized student organization, captain of an athletics team, or college-endorsed candidate for fellowships including the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. The policies will apply to any student who joins the groups starting with the class of 2021 and does not affect anyone who’s currently a member.
While the sanctions may seem severe (and have been criticized for infringing on students’ freedom of association), they are likely this extreme in order to tackle deeply-rooted issues, predominantly at all-male final clubs. The clubs, which closely resemble Greek organizations, have increasingly become more democratic, but have a long history of invitation-only male elitism, and were called out in a university report this past March for contributing disproportionately to instances of sexual assault. As reported by The Harvard Crimson, a study commissioned by the University’s Task Force on Sexual Assault Prevention discovered that 47 percent of female seniors who “participated in final clubs” said they had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact since entering college, compared to 31 percent of female seniors overall.
In a statement explaining the sanctions, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana highlighted the “power imbalance” caused by single-gender social organizations as a major reason for the decision. “The most entrenched of these spaces send an unambiguous message that they are the exclusive preserves of men,” he said.