53 Percent of Surveyed Students Oppose Single-Gender Sanctions

More than 53 percent of surveyed undergraduates hold an unfavorable view of Harvard’s policy penalizing members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations, according to a recent Crimson survey.

Of the 1,847 students who responded to the question, 26.1 percent reported a favorable view of the policy, which, starting with the Class of 2021, will prevent members of final clubs and Greek organizations from holding campus or athletic leadership positions and receiving College endorsement for certain fellowships. Roughly 20 percent of surveyed undergraduates said they had no opinion on or did not know their position on the policy.

The question was asked as part of The Crimson's 2016 election survey, which was open in October.

Since its announcement in May, the College’s unprecedented policy has faced criticism from students, national Greek organizations, and members of Harvard’s faculty. Former Dean of the College and computer science professor Harry R. Lewis ’68 has been a particularly vocal opponent, arguing that the policy limits students’ freedom of association and introducing a faculty motion that he believes would strike down the policy. The motion is expected to go to a vote at the next Faculty meeting in December.

Despite the vocal opposition, a number of students, coaches, and other Harvard affiliates have expressed support for the policy as a necessary step towards addressing perceived gender inequity on campus.

The Crimson’s survey marks the first large-scale attempt to gauge student opinion on the sanctions, with more than a quarter of Harvard undergraduates recording their views. The survey did not account for potential selection bias.

Responding to the survey’s results in an interview last month, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, a main architect of the policy, said “I hope students will inform themselves of the wide variety of information available around the impact of single-gender social organizations.”

“I hope they will understand that the College’s commitment to non-discrimination is one that we believe is critical if Harvard is to be the standard for higher education in the 21st century,” Khurana added.

In September, Khurana convened a committee of students, staff, and faculty tasked with creating the implementation strategy for the policy when it goes into effect next fall. The committee, led by University Professor and Eliot House Faculty Dean Douglas A. Melton and Music and African and African American Studies professor Kay K. Shelemay, includes 20 undergraduates. The group will submit a set of recommendations to Khurana by the end of next semester.

Responding to the survey’s results, Melton wrote in an email that he and Shelemay “have already heard many constructive and critical comments from students and faculty.”

“Through our work on the Implementation Committee, which is primarily populated with students, we are moving ahead and and plan to offer strong recommendations to the Dean in due course,” he wrote.

At the implementation committee’s inaugural town hall in October, student attendees criticized the policy, asking administrators whether it would require students to report one another’s organizational affiliation.

Following a Faculty meeting earlier this month, University President Drew G. Faust emphasized that a policy was essential to address what she called the rising influence and exclusionary practices of single-gender social organizations on campus, but said that aspects of the policy could be subject to change.

Some students continue to raise objections to perceived College overextension into student social life. Carlos R. Albors-Riera ’18 said he thought the policy “seems too intrusive” although he supports initiatives to create “more social spaces” on campus.

Brabeeba Wang ’18 said that though he agrees with the policy in principle, “the execution is poor.”

Students will have another opportunity to weigh in on the sanctions in the upcoming Undergraduate Council elections, after UC representatives voted earlier this month to include a ballot question asking students whether they believe final clubs and Greek organizations should go gender-neutral. That question joins another on the ballot—whether the College should repeal the sanctions altogether.

Current UC candidates for president and vice president have also expressed concern over the policy. In a debate last Friday, three of the four pairs of candidates said they oppose the sanctions while the other pair said they support the College’s policy “conditionally.”

UC Vice President Daniel V. Banks ’17, a supporter of the sanctions and a member of the implementation committee, responded to the survey statistics and UC candidates’ opposition to the policy in an email.

“We recognize that transitions are difficult and this historic change at Harvard will not come without fierce defenses of an unacceptable status quo,” he wrote. “As someone who engaged in a school-wide campaign but one year ago, I advise candidates to not bend to the temptation of public opinion on such a contentious issue.”

—Staff writer Brittany N. Ellis can be reached at brittany.ellis@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @britt_ellis10.

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