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UPDATED: May 9, 2016, at 8:41 p.m.
In a joint statement Monday, officials from a variety of umbrella groups for national Greek organizations criticized a new Harvard policy that, starting with the Class of 2021, will bar members of unrecognized social groups from holding leadership positions in College clubs and disqualify them from Harvard endorsement for prestigious fellowships.
The statement—from leaders of the National Panhellenic Conference, the North-American Interfraternity Conference, the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations, and the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors—expressed broad agreement with Harvard’s aim of “creating a safe and equitable environment for students,” but wrote that Harvard “mistakenly assumes the way to achieve those ends is to punish students for participating in single-gender organizations.”
Harvard’s policy announcement and accompanying opposition came at the end of a turbulent year for Harvard’s single-gender social organizations. While Greek organizations have managed to remain, for the most part, out of the spotlight, Harvard’s unrecognized final clubs drew ire from administrators, who pressured to reform their membership policies. In the fall, two historically all-male clubs added women to their ranks for the first time.
The authors of the Greek organizations’ statement—Dani Weatherford of the National Panhellenic Conference; Francisco Lugo of the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations; Judson Horras of the North-American Interfraternity Conference; and Mark Koepsell of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors— also criticized the policy on grounds that it denied students “the basic right of free association.”
In a statement from College spokesperson Rachael Dane, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana responded to the Greek organizations’ collective message, writing that Harvard is “committed to building an inclusive campus community” and that “we have the obligation to establish general regulations and standards that shape our Harvard community in a manner that is consistent with our educational philosophy."
In addition to the joint statement, leaders of each Greek organization submitted their own statement. All statements were compiled in a message sent by Jonathan Coffin, a spokesperson for the National Panhellenic Conference.
Weatherford, the Executive Director of the National Panhellenic Conference, urged Harvard“ to consider the ramifications this policy shift will have on programs and opportunities for women on campus.” Undergraduate women in sororities and female final clubs were particularly aggrieved by the new policy, with many taking to Facebook to criticize the new policy for what they considered a lack of consideration for women’s perspectives.
“While we support efforts to forcefully address sexual assault on every campus, punishing women for being members of single-gender organizations is not the answer,” Weatherford wrote.
Lugo, the Commissioner of Member Services for the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations, wrote that “culturally-based fraternities and sororities,” —those composed of underrepresented minority students— “are also punished by Harvard’s policy.”
“[I]f Harvard is seeking to make campus more inclusive and equitable, removing opportunities for these students goes directly against that goal,” Lugo wrote.
Horras, President and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, wrote that the policy distracted from “real issues around campus safety.” Koepsell, Executive Director and CEO of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors argued that Harvard’s longstanding policy not to recognize fraternities and sororities “has been a disservice to students in those groups” and that the new policy “ misses the mark on how to improve campus safety and inclusivity.”
While none of the statements included mention of legal action, Jonathan M. Pierce, a national spokesperson for the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, did not rule out legal action. In an interview with The Crimson Friday, Pierce said that AEPi would “be forwarding this to our legal counsel and be reaching out to our partners at other Greek organizations and other clubs. We believe [the regulations are] unfair, likely to be unconstitutional, and we will work to fight it any way we can and we will reach out to others impacted.”
National parent organizations discourage undergraduate members of sororities and fraternities from talking to the press. But at least one demonstration, organized by a group calling itself the Crimson Women’s Coalition, is set in response to the new policy.
In an email alerting journalists to a scheduled Monday protest outside of University President Drew G. Faust’s Massachusetts Hall office, the group wrote that they “want the college to return to the drawing board and create policy that acknowledges the necessity of women’s spaces on campus.”
—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ramseyfahs.
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