UPDATED: November 2, 2016, at 1:30 p.m.
Harvard Undergraduate Council President Shaiba Rather ’17 and Vice President Daniel V. Banks ’17 voiced support for the College’s historic sanctions on members of single-gender social organizations at Tuesday’s meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, marking their first public stance on the controversial policy in the six months since its announcement.
At the meeting, where members of FAS discussed a motion to oppose the College policy, Rather said she and Banks believe the sanctions will address discrimination on campus and create “a Harvard College that holds its students to principles of non-discrimination, inclusion, and belonging.”
Rather clarified that she and Banks were speaking on behalf of their own perspective, and not the views of the UC as a whole.
She acknowledged that the debate around final clubs and Greek organizations was was “complex” and recognized that undergraduates remain divided on the policy.
"Campus is polarized and we recognize that there are peers of ours who will disagree with us," said Rather, who serves with Banks alongside other Harvard undergraduates on the College’s committee to recommend how to enforce the sanctions.
The sanctions, announced in May, bar undergraduates starting with the Class of 2021 from holding student leadership positions or receiving College-endorsed fellowships if they are members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations such as final clubs and Greek organizations. The policy has been met with mixed reactions from students, faculty, and alumni alike. Many Harvard affiliates, including coaches, professors, and members of the Harvard Corporation have expressed support for the policy, but students, faculty, and former administrators have publicly criticized the decision.
Just hours after the sanctions were announced, Rather and Banks sent an email to undergraduates expressing concern about the policy’s implementation, and suggested that the College’s policy needed to be “more nuanced” and include “student voice at every level” to be effective. They also said they took fault with “the University’s timeline in releasing these recommendations” at the end of the semester during final exams.
Rather and Banks have focused their tenure around promoting of four “compelling interests” of student life: mental health, race relations, sexual assault and harassment, and social spaces. Their platform during the UC’s presidential election last November included a goal to “Open Harvard,” which included pushing final clubs towards open punch, transparent membership demographics, and regular open parties.
Banks said that, though Harvard has been working to “rid itself of the exclusionary vestiges” that he said used to characterize the College’s social scene, the sanctions may help to facilitate the process towards inclusivity.
“While we understand that organic culture change is ideal, we recognize that that change that has occurred on campus has not had… the speed needed to combat the weight of these [negative] externalities,” Rather said at the meeting.
The two UC leaders had not previously taken a public stance on the policy, though they spoke to the Faculty Council about them in September. Rather and Banks said they will publish an op-ed explaining their position on the sanctions policy in the near future.
“We view this policy as an opportunity for a new chapter in Harvard’s history,” Rather said at the meeting Tuesday.
At the meeting Tuesday, former Dean of the College and Computer Science professor Harry R. Lewis '68 presented a motion to oppose the sanctions, arguing that they infringe on freedom of association.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: November 2, 2016
A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted UC President Shaiba Rather '17 as saying Harvard has been working to “rid itself of the exclusionary vestiges.” In fact, UC Vice President Daniel V. Banks '17 said this statement.
Coaches Support Social Group SanctionsIn a letter to the editor Sunday, coaches of three prominent teams praised Harvard’s new sanctions against single-gender groups.
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