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- Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Member of...?
Newsletter > March 2017 > "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Member of…?"
Are You Now or Have You Ever Been a Member of…?
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Are you now or have you ever been a member
of … ?”
Those words, more than half century ago, were heard at the height of the McCarthy era from members of Congress questioning witnesses who perhaps belonged to organizations they did not like. Words that many academics and others reviled.
Harvard may not equate itself with those days, but the final report of its Implementation Committee for the Policy on Membership in Single Gender Social Organizations issued on February 17, 2017 comes close.
Last May, Harvard administrators, voicing a concern about sexual assaults on campus and tracing too many to men’s only final clubs, [downplaying the fact that many more assaults took place in the University’s own dormitories] announced a policy that would, in a few years, punish those students who were members of single sex social organizations not recognized by the university. Five men’s Greek groups – Alpha Epsilon Pi, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Kappa Sigma, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Chi- and four women’s Greek groups – Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma – were swept up in Harvard’s effort to regulate final clubs.
With a change in tone from last May’s presentation which focused heavily on the issue of sexual assault, the Committee attempts to restate the purpose of the no single-sex organization policy saying it;
… should be understood and described as a
balanced approach towards affirming nondiscrimination
principally with respect to the
broadest continuum of gender identities.
The policy aims to improve the sense of inclusion
among our diverse community members.
In the best light, the policy challenges
Harvard College to become a better version
The harsh penalties announced in May for belonging to an unrecognized single-sex organization were met with loud concern and criticism. There had been hope that some moderation and recognition of the values that members gain from fraternities and sororities would occur. But while the stated purpose for the policy may have changed, nothing in the February report of the Implementation Committee suggests moderation. Instead, it moves in the opposite direction. If implemented as proposed, students entering Harvard in the fall of 2017 and after who also became members of the five national fraternities and four national sororities, would be deprived of Harvard recommendation for some 30 major scholarships and academic programs. Those include Fulbright, Marshal and Rhodes Scholarships not funded by Harvard. They would also be barred from being captains of any of Harvard’s 42 Division 1 intercollegiate athletic teams and now apparently even from leading the dozens of club sports teams, including Curling, Quidditch and Ultimate Frisbee.
Recognizing that women were latecomers to Harvard as students, the Committee does propose a five-year “bridge” period. It “supports the idea of continuing to allow the female finals clubs and sororities to operate with gender-focused missions, with the understanding that the positive contributions of those organizations to the campus community would be assessed in three to five years.” What that means is not at all clear as the committee intends “that this bridge period enable these groups to make the transition to an open social status as PSOs (Provisional Student Organizations) entirely unconnected from the typical Greek system.”
Students wishing to be eligible for the highly sought after 14 national and international awards, or 15 Harvard awards, or seeking to captain Harvard athletic teams, would be required to sign a binding oath:
I affirm my awareness of the college’s policy
regarding the principal of nondiscrimination,
particularly with regard to
membership in unrecognized single-gender
social organizations, in taking a leadership
position in a student organization/applying
for a sponsored grant or fellowship, becoming
a varsity athletic team captain, I affirm
my compliance with that policy.
By accepting the policy, a student confirms that they are not on signing and have not been a member of such a single sex organization for the last year and will not be for at least a year after their participation in the position or award they seek.
In the future, a Harvard administrator overseeing a particular program or scholarship might well ask “Are you now or have you ever been a member of Delta Gamma?”