The Cost of Exclusivity

College policies inadvertently bolster exclusive social organizations

That Harvard students routinely flock to off-campus social spaces belies the fact that Harvard, in truth, owns an abundance of underutilized social space. That three of Harvard’s Greek organizations have recently acquired real estate, then, begs the question: Why are Harvard students choosing to socialize in exclusive, final club- or Greek organization-owned venues in lieu of our inclusive Houses, dining halls, and common rooms? The acquisition of space by Greek organizations, rather than appropriately remedying the problem of social space at Harvard, is evidence of it. The expansion of Greek life on our campus is a troubling trend that, in our view, at least, exists in large part as a reaction to some of the College’s misguided social policies.

Until quite recently, Greek organizations at Harvard have not enjoyed the pervasiveness that they do on so many other campuses, and we fear that the visibility that social spaces will lend to them will mean that this is no longer the case. Predicated on gender division, Greek organizations, when equipped with social spaces, will reinforce the asymmetrical gender ratios and power dynamics that we so often see at final clubs. While one may make the case that the acquisition of real estate by sororities will counteract the disproportionately male control of social space at final clubs, we contend that sororities are not an adequate response to all-male social organizations for the very reason that they are all-female; an organization predicated on gender as a fundamental division cannot counteract an organization that is predicated on the same principle.

Of course, Greek organizations rely not only on gender division, but also on arbitrary exclusivity. As organizations that will turn away guests because of their gender or appearance, these are hardly an appropriate solution to the perennial problem of social space on campus. Additionally, one of our greatest assets as a college is our strong campus culture, and the regular fractionation of Harvard students to off-campus venues will negatively impact campus unity.

Any addition to social space on campus should be one that is inclusive of and comfortable for all students and one that promotes rather than degrades student cohesion. Social spaces operated by Greek organizations are unlikely to satisfy any of these criteria. It is for this reason that Harvard does not officially recognize Greek organizations, and it is for this same reason that the College should act to reintroduce on-campus social spaces as legitimate and, indeed, superior alternatives to off-campus spaces.

Unfortunately, students regularly overlook readily available on-campus space because of Harvard’s excessively paternalistic alcohol policies. While the College should certainly continue to enforce the laws of the State of Massachusetts, we encourage administrators to refrain from enforcing regulations that go beyond the scope of state law. For example, the Harvard College Alcohol Policy states that alcohol “may not be served [at parties] unless non-alcoholic beverages and food are being served at the same time, hosts...must monitor the event and make sure there is no underage drinking. Tutors...will check in at least once throughout the course of the event.” These policies, though well-intentioned, turn a blind eye to the realities of student life and have the effect of siphoning students to off-campus spaces, where they may not have access to tutors and other safety resources.

Harvard’s commitment to safety and inclusivity should take precedence over its concern with its own liability. To this end, we hope that the College does not impose drinking policies that it does not have to and that are likely more harmful than helpful to students.

Ironically, exclusive social organizations, though not officially recognized by Harvard, are increasing in influence and popularity largely as a result of Harvard’s policies. We find it hard to believe, for instance, that when the legal drinking age was 18, Harvard students would have tolerated the exclusivity and gender division that governs our campus environment today. They put up with those inequities, it seems, because they are the price to pay for a safe drinking environment. Inasmuch as the College hopes to honor its commitment to student well-being, fairness, and campus cohesion, it can no longer justify exacerbating that trend.

We hope in the future that Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds and her staff privilege their commitments to the student body and to campus culture in general over the trivial concern for liability that seems to shape the bulk of their decisions. After all, which is more important in the end? Protecting students from the alcohol they will only consume more irresponsibly and dangerously when overly policed and penalized? Or from a social system that, now with stronger Greek organizations, further contradicts the University’s own values, as articulated in the non-discrimination policy?

In our mind, the answer is clear.