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Continuing to mount pressure on administrators, more than 200 women rallied in front of Massachusetts Hall Monday against a new Harvard policy that will bar members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations from holding leadership positions in official clubs and receiving top fellowships.
The rally, organized by a group calling itself the Crimson Women’s Coalition, featured four brief speeches from undergraduate women, a march around Harvard Yard, and chants defending all-female organizations.
The event marks the latest in a series of negative responses to Harvard’s newly announced sanctions against single-gender social organizations, which will first affect freshmen matriculating in the fall of 2017. Many graduate leaders of male and female final clubs, national greek organizations, and undergraduate women have expressed frustration and opposition to the announcement.
Compared to final clubs, Greek organizations endured relatively little administrative pressure to update their membership policies this year. In the wake of the policy, members of Greek organizations have been particularly critical of the move.
According to Rebecca J. Ramos ’17, who helped organize and plan the rally, Khurana met with representatives of Greek organizations Sunday, though she said attendees “haven’t received much clarification on the policy yet.”
College Spokesperson Rachael Dane declined to comment on a possible meeting. Dane wrote in an emailed statement that administrators “have received messages of support from many members of the broad College community” along with “messages of concern and opposition.”
“As we noted Friday, change is difficult and is often met initially by opposition. That was certainly true with past steps to remove gender barriers at Harvard, yet few today would reverse those then-controversial decisions,” Dane added. “We continue to believe that gender discrimination has no place on Harvard’s campus. At the same time, we support the right of every community member to express their views."
Women began gathering Monday around 5 p.m., holding signs that ranged in tone from somber to lighthearted. One read “Sexual Assault Is Not Our Fault,” and another read “I should’ve gone to Bryn Mawr,” referencing the Pennsylvania women’s college that University President Drew G. Faust attended.
Ramos kicked off the event, emphasizing that speeches came “from individuals, not from any particular organization,” as one woman used a hockey stick to secure a banner with the phrase “#HearHerHarvard” from the upper floor of Massachusetts Hall. Several sorority members, beholden to restrictions from national parents organizations, declined to comment.
“By removing… spaces for women, Harvard is making our campus less safe for women,” Ramos said. “The College may have discussed this extensively with the male organizations, but they have only included female organizations as an afterthought.”
In a public letter last week explaining the policy, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana wrote that administrators had “developed… recommendations with careful deliberation.”
Ramos argued that the policy had “taken away our place to speak openly about women’s issues and actively empower each other and other women, and in doing so, they effectively turn back the clock on all of our progress.”
Ramos ended her speech, as most speakers did, with a call and response to the crowd of “Hear her, Harvard.”
Whitney S. Anderson ’16, another speaker, said her women’s organization “has been a source of mental health support, a place to address sexual assaults.”
After four speeches, women marched once around Harvard Yard, chanting “Hear her, Harvard” and “Sexual assault is not our fault.”
Before the rally, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Emelyn A. dela Peña, who observed the protest, declined to comment on whether the College may amend the policy, although she said administrators “continue to invite… conversation.”
Faculty Dean of Lowell House Diana L. Eck, who arrived at the rally shortly after the end of the speeches, said that she was “sympathetic to the sense that [the policy] may need to be more nuanced.”
“I’ve heard of many women, like these women here, who feel that it comes down unfairly on their rather new attempts to establish clubs and spaces,” Eck said, adding that she believed in the “gist of the policy.”
Eck also said “some of these clubs are not in keeping with the Harvard that has emerged over the last 50 years” though she added said that, in her opinion, women’s clubs were not among them.
Ramos said she hoped the rally would spur further meetings with administrators before the end of the week.
“We want the College to return to the drawing board and create policy that acknowledges the necessity of women’s spaces on campus,” the Crimson Women’s Coalition wrote in a statement notifying journalists of the rally.
—Staff writer C. Ramsey Fahs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ramseyfahs.
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