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A CLUH at the Scene of the Crime

Civil Liberties Union of Harvard

By Madhavi Sunder

Despite George Bush's continued attempts to tarnish the image of the "card-carrying" member of the ACLU, civil rights groups across the country continue their efforts to ensure the protection of constitutional rights in even the most unpopular cases.

At Harvard, defenders of civil rights seem to be especially active. This year alone, the student-run Civil Liberties Union of Harvard (CLUH) has brought questions of constitutionality to the forefront of debate on almost every aspect of campus life, from disciplinary policies to rules governing residential life.

In response to an inquiry by CLUH into the College's Administrative Board launched late last fall, Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett '57 last week agreed to create a sub-committee of the board to examine charges that the ad board does not guarantee students the constitutioanl right to due process.

The administration has taken heat from CLUH over possible civil rights violations in other areas, as well. When Dean of the College Archie C. Epps III last week threatened not to grant student organizers of the Alternative Junior Parents' Weekend a room to hold a panel discussion on minority faculty hiring, CLUH stepped in on behalf of the students, alleging the College violated their right to free speech.

And the student civil liberties group has sparked a campus-wide debate on the College's rooming policies, as well, after CLUH members approached the Committee on House Life last month, alleging that the single-sex rooming rules are discriminatory against Gays and Lesbians.

Thus, the group has formulated a niche for itself on campus, serving as both agenda-setter for issues of debate at the College, and as a resource group for students whose rights have been violated.

Student members of CLUH say they have had to face many challenges in their pursuits this year.

Unlike the lawyers at large public civil rights groups, student members of CLUH do not have the power to affect change through litigatation. Left to work only with their own knowledge of the Constitution, the leaders of the organization say that CLUH's role on campus has naturally evolved to "advise, educate, and keep a watchful eye on the administration," says Julia Shaffner '91, CLUH president.

"We don't have the legal system to work through, so instead we rely on student pressure, the size of the organization, and publicity," explains CLUH Director James F. Ryan '91.

Because CLUH members--and administrators as well--know they have the clout of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts (CLUM) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to carry them, CLUH has an extra leg to stand on in dealing with the administration, Ryan says.

Subsequently, CLUH has challenged many traditional policies. This critical examination of college issues has been the result of CLUH's belief that civil rights violations tend to be overlooked because they have been accepted for so long.

"There are often civil rights issues that you don't see unless you look," Shaffner says. "What we want is for people to realize there are civil rights issues everywhere."

The investigation into the policies of the Ad Board was also launched because of the concern that students, left in the dark about the College's secretive disciplinary procedures, seldom have had the opportunity to examine these policies critically.

"We felt that part of our job was just to inform students, because there is this aura of mystery around the board," Shaffner explains.

CLUH members say that part of their mission is to convince the College to change any policies that they believe are discriminatory, says Shaffner.

Shaffner says CLUH hopes to initiate a campus-wide dialogue about the issue of co-educational rooming. CLUH members say that the present rooming policy is discriminatory becuse it operates on the assumption that all students are heterosexual.

Jewett said last week that the College was not likely to change the rooming policy anytime soon.

But CLUH members say that the College should not wait until they believe a policy of co-habitation is more socially acceptable before they make a change.

"In terms of civil rights, now is the only appropriate time [for change] because it's not a matter of society's norms," says Shaffner. "It's a matter of rights."

Members of the group say they would like to strike a balance between setting their own agenda and responding to complaints of others.

"We don't have a set agenda," says Joshua E. Burstein '93. "We basically like to think that we're just waiting for something to happen so we can react to it. The problem is that there are not real big civil rights issues on campus that just hit you."

CLUH members point to their immediate response to the Minority Student Alliance debate with Epps as evidence of their readiness to respond to students facing constitutional problems with the University.

"We saw it as a censorship issue," says Shaffner. "If Dean Epps starts taking away room privileges from student groups, what's he going to do next? It's a very effective way of silencing students and keeping them from organizing."

After CLUH began its investigation of the Ad Board, several students called CLUH members with stories of their own, Ryan says. Shaffner adds that this weekend, a student denied the right to announce an alternative speech called CLUH members with his complaint.

But still, leaders of CLUH say they would like more students to turn to them when they believe policies at the College may be unconstitutional.

"We don't have a lot of students that just call out of the blue, but we wish that more would call," says Shaffner. "We want them to feel that if their rights have been violated, they can come to us."

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