Twenty Harvard undergraduates, including at least one athlete and members of final clubs and Greek organizations, will serve on a committee tasked with recommending how to implement a new College policy penalizing future members of single-gender social organizations.
The undergraduates are joined on the 37-member committee by professors from across the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in addition to Harvard administrators. Last month, the two Faculty chairs of the committee—University Professor and Faculty Dean of Eliot House Douglas A. Melton and Music and African and African American Studies professor Kay K. Shelemay—reached out to students to solicit members.
“There were many more applicants than we were able to accommodate,” Melton said.
“We hoped to get people who were athletes, people who were involved in single-gender social organizations, people who were not; we have people from the Undergraduate Council,” he said.
Last spring, Harvard administrators announced an unprecedented policy that will ban members of unrecognized single-gender social groups from leadership roles in recognized student organizations and varsity captaincies. In addition, the policy will bar those undergraduates from College endorsement for top fellowships.
The policy is not without its critics; just days after the announcement of the sanctions, hundreds of women marched in protest through Harvard Yard, while several faculty—including former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68—have argued the sanctions infringe upon students’ freedom of association.
Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana announced the convening of the committee in September and tasked them with recommending how to best implement the new policy when it goes into effect. The committee is expected to submit a recommendation to Khurana by the end of the spring semester.
Some students and faculty have questioned how the policy will be enforced. At a town hall College administrators hosted earlier in October, some attendees wondered whether the policy would require students to inform on their peers.
In addition to Melton and Shelemay, committee leaders include Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman ’67, Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, and History of Science professor Janet Browne. Four undergraduates, including Undergraduate Council President Shaiba Rather ’17, are also leaders of the committee. Rather’s campaign platform last year with Vice President Daniel V. Banks ’17—who is also serving on the implementation committee—emphasized reforming campus social spaces.
Melton said that while reviewing applicants and appointing members, he and Shelemay hoped to find “people who have been involved with various organizations, people who have concerns with undergraduate student life, people with different experiences. The charge is to make sure that we get undergraduates from the broad spectrum.”
The steering committee oversees three sub-groups—“Governance/Implementation,” “Social Groups/Campus Community,” and “Communications/Benchmarking”—chaired by English professor Louis Menand, Pforzheimer House Faculty Dean Anne Harrington ’82, and Director of Undergraduate Studies for Women, Gender and Sexuality Caroline Light, respectively.
Several students on the committee chose to join because they wanted to help shape new social spaces on campus. Ethan B. Reichsman ’19, who transferred to Harvard from the small all-male, two-year college Deep Springs, said he envisions the committee working to “diminish the influence of the final clubs and fraternities and sororities not by penalizing the members but by finding a way to replace the important social role they play.”
Reischman also said he applied because he is interested in being involved in student governance on campus.
Ben I. Sorkin ’20, who is a member of the “Social Groups/Campus Community” subcommittee, said he applied for a position because he thought it was important to have “a freshman at the table” in the discussion of campus social life.
“Our short term goals are to provide a proposal to Dean Khurana on how to fill the gap left by single-gender social organizations that could be created by the policy,” he said.
Several other students on the committee declined to comment on their involvement and referred all questions to College spokesperson Rachael Dane.
—Staff writer Graham W. Bishai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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