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Citing a woman’s right to choose, Harvard sororities snub new rule against single-sex groups

‘We believe women should make their own choices’

Three sororities at Harvard University have vowed to continue their recruitment efforts even as the university has made official a policy promising to penalize students who join single-gender Greek organizations.

The penalties, announced in 2016 and finalized last year, bar students of single-gender “unrecognized” social clubs from serving in campus leadership positions.

As Harvard does not recognize Greek organizations, such as fraternities and sororities, this means any student who joins one of these organizations will be forbidden from leading any recognized student organization on campus. They would also be barred from athletic captaincies and endorsements for prestigious fellowships as well.

In a joint statement released on Dec. 12, Harvard’s Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma and Kappa Alpha Theta announced they would conduct recruitment for spring 2018 for all freshman in spite of the new policy.

“We realize that including freshman women as members in our organizations is in contravention of the current sanctions Harvard’s administration has imposed on single-gender social groups,” the statement reads. “These sanctions have been touted as a response to the recommendations of a report on sexual assault prevention.”

“Yet penalizing our future members for their involvement in a sorority in reality denies them access to member-driven education and support systems shown to be effective in battling sexual assault, as well as alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and the particular challenges inherent in college life.”

“We believe in a woman’s right to create a supportive, aspirational community,” the statement says. “We believe women should make their own choices.”

Reached for comment, Alpha Phi spokeswoman Michelle Xie told The College Fix via email that the sororities provide “an empowering support system” to their members.

“We value those relationships as well as scholarship and leadership, so we want women to have the option of joining our recruitment process,” Xie said.

Xie told The Fix that the university is offering a five-year window of exemptions from the sanctions, but only if the sororities disaffiliate from their national organizations.

“Given the great relationship we have built with our advisors and the resources that they provide us,” she said, “we do not want to choose this path.”

In a Dec. 5 statement released by Harvard’s Office of the President, the college gave students an ultimatum: “Ultimately, students have the freedom to decide which is more important to them: membership in a gender-discriminatory organization or access to those privileges and resources.”

The office did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Fix.

The sanctions were passed by Harvard’s 13-member corporation. A more-severe proposal to ban social groups entirely from Harvard’s campus was ultimately shelved in favor of the current policy.

At least one Harvard faculty member, meanwhile — history Professor James Kloppenberg — advocated kicking members of single-gender organizations out of the university, telling The Harvard Gazette: “I predict that the faculty will follow the lead of many of the nation’s finest liberal arts colleges, …  and vote overwhelmingly to make membership in exclusionary social organizations grounds for expulsion from Harvard College.”

In their statement, the Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, and Kappa Alpha Theta sororities vowed to continue providing “supportive, empowering women-only spaces” at Harvard.

“We do understand there are risks inherent in this action,” the statement reads, “but we provide powerful spaces of support and are determined to work together to demonstrate the value of sorority membership.”

Following the passage of the sanctions policy, one Harvard sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, elected to switch to coed and restyle itself as a “new gender-neutral social club called the Fleur-de-Lis.”

Praising the sorority’s decision, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said that Kappa Kappa Gamma’s abandonment of its single-sex charter was an example of “positive change” that represented “environments and cultures rooted in respect and inclusion.”

MORE: Harvard sorority goes coed after administration promises to discriminate against all-women clubs

MORE: Harvard task force: Eradicate all private social groups, not just single-sex clubs

IMAGE: Tero_Vesalainen / Shutterstock.com

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About the Author
Coy Westbrook -- Texas A&M University