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Harvard sorority recruitment plummets after college vows to punish members of single-sex groups

University threatened students with sanctions if they joined single-sex clubs; recruitment drops nearly 60 percent

When Harvard College announced punitive sanctions against members of single-sex groups on campus, several sororities vowed to stay woman-only. Yet during this year’s sorority recruitment process, the number of students showing interest in joining these organizations dropped by more than half—a likely consequence of those sanctions and a possible sign of things to come for Harvard Greek Life.

The sanctions implemented by the university this school year mandate that any students who join a single-sex club is unable to hold campus leadership positions, be the captain of a varsity athletic team, or receive school support for certain prestigious fellowships, such as the Rhodes.

Last December, Harvard’s Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma and Kappa Alpha Theta sororities announced that they would remain single-sex in defiance of the sanctions.

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

Yet according to a report by the Harvard student newspaper The Harvard Crimson, sorority interest during this year’s recruitment process was less than half that of last year’s, dropping to an estimated 100 interested students. Last year, prior to the sanctions taking effect, nearly 290 women rushed for sorority recruitment.

The Cambridge Panhellenic group that oversees the sororities chose not to release official statistics on interested students and bids this year, citing a “respect for the process,” despite releasing those numbers in 2017. The Crimson was able to obtain the numbers elsewhere.

None of Harvard’s three sororities, nor the Cambridge Panhellenic Council, responded to emails from The College Fix asking whether or not they believed the drop in interest was a result of the sanctions, and if they were committed to remaining single-sex in the wake of the dropoff.

In their new member recruitment packet, the Cambridge Panhellenic Council—the governing board of those three sororities—wrote that “while Harvard’s sanctions claim to support women’s right to make their own decisions, these sanctions actually force women to choose between the opportunity to have supportive, empowering women-only spaces and external leadership opportunities.”

The three sororities that chose to stay single-sex stood by their decision during the recruitment process, stating that the organizations “provide powerful spaces of support and are determined to work together to demonstrate the value of sorority membership.”

Responding to the sanction policy, one sorority at Harvard chose to go gender neutral. The Harvard chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma is now known as Fleur-de-Lis. According to Fleur-de-Lis’s statistics, they had interested from around 180 students and accepted 44 students into the group. Because they went co-ed, members of Fleur-de-Lis will not face sanctions.

When asked by The Crimson if the organization had accepted any men this semester, the president of Fleur-de-Lis, Tiana Menon, avoided answering: “In keeping with our mission, we didn’t solicit gender identities in our registration form so I don’t have those numbers,” she said.

Sororities had been growing in recent years at Harvard. A student who joined Kappa Kappa Gamma, now Fleur-de-Lis, said in 2016, “I actually never thought I would rush in the first place. If I went to college at any other school, I probably wouldn’t have. But I felt like I needed another community to surround me at Harvard, like I needed another home base.”

Now the university’s administration is threatening to punish those who seek that “home base,” and it has evidently successfully scared away many would-be sorority sisters.

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

MORE: Harvard sororities snub new rule against single-sex groups

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About the Author
Aryssa Damron -- Yale University