As Sanctions Remain, So Does Resistance From Single-Gender Groups

The Clubhouse of the Fly
The Fly Club had previously retained legal counsel to explore options, including a potential lawsuit, to challenge the College's social group policy.
UPDATED: December 6, 2017 at 3:12 p.m.

Single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations met the news that Harvard will not be changing its penalties against them with the same condemnations they’ve lodged against the University in the year and a half since the policy debuted.

Members of the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, voted Monday to keep the policy as it was when University President Drew G. Faust first announced it in May 2016.

The new stamp of approval did little to sway long-time critics of the policy, which, starting with the Class of 2021, bars members of single-gender social groups from holding campus leadership positions, becoming varsity captains, or receiving endorsements for a number of prestigious fellowships.

Graduate president of the Fly Club Richard T. Porteus ’78 said the decision was “not surprising,” adding that the announcement did not change the Fly’s calculus in responding to the policy.

“The Fly will act to preserve its autonomy,” Porteus said. “But Harvard is still in the ‘I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down’ phase of all of this, and until we feel the wind, we’re not going to spend unnecessary money on legal strategizing.”

“We’ve put in place what we need to, and we will respond in an appropriate way when there is something to respond to,” he said. “And at this point, there isn’t. It’s talk, and we’re as curious as anyone what this talk amounts to.”

The Fly Club had previously retained legal counsel to explore options, including a potential lawsuit, to challenge the College’s policy.

Harvey A. Silverglate, a Cambridge lawyer who represents the Fly Club, said he was disappointed in the decision.

“[Harvard] stubbornly stuck to what I think is a decision that violates the independence of its own students, the autonomy of its own students, and is very ill-considered,” Silverglate said.

Silverglate, a longtime critic of the University, said Tuesday that he and his clients will continue to weigh “several options.”

“I will be meeting with my fellow counsel and with my clients over the next few days and weeks to discuss this,” Silverglate said.

Silverglate declined to comment on whether he was providing legal counsel for single-gender groups other than the Fly.

Heather Kirk, a spokesperson for the North-American Interfraternity Conference, also slammed the Corporation’s decision in an emailed statement. The NIC is the national umbrella organization for three of Harvard’s off-campus fraternities: Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Delta Kappa Epsilon, and Sigma Chi.

“Harvard could not be more wrong,” the statement reads. “It’s ironic that one of the most exclusive institutions in the world is limiting what organizations students can join. This infringement on a citizen’s basic rights must be challenged.”

Bartle Bull ’60, a graduate member of the A.D. Club, also condemned the policy.

“As a former civil rights lawyer in Mississippi, Crimson editor, officer of a Harvard final club, publisher of The Village Voice, New York State campaign manager for Robert Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, and worker in Afghanistan for women’s education, I believe that Harvard’s policy regarding single-gender social organizations is an exercise in intolerance and discrimination and violates constitutional principles of freedom of association,” he wrote in an emailed statement to The Crimson.

Newly sworn-in Undergraduate Council President Catherine L. Zhang ’19 and Vice-President Nicholas D. Boucher ’19, despite previously voicing support for “the idea” of penalties on single-gender social groups during their campaign, did not take a position on Faust and the Corporation’s decision in a statement Tuesday.

“This has been a long process for many students, and we respect that this news can come with a variety of responses. As the leaders of the Harvard Undergraduate Council, we believe in a Harvard college that is inclusive, accepting, and welcoming to all students,” they wrote.

—Staff writer Graham Bishai can be reached at graham.bishai@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @GrahamBishai.

—Staff writer Derek G. Xiao can be reached at derek.xiao@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekgxiao.

This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: December 6, 2017

A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated that Bartle Bull ’60 was the graduate president of the A.D. Club. In fact, he is a graduate member of the organization.

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