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Opinion

Necessary Support for Sanctions

The Harvard Corporation has rightly exercised its power to support the implementation of sanctions on single-gender social organizations.

At the last Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting of the semester this past Tuesday, University President Drew G. Faust announced that the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, voted to keep the original May 2016 social group policy proposed by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana. Under this policy, undergraduate members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations will not be allowed to hold leadership positions on athletics teams and recognized student groups. This announcement ostensibly brings to an end a protracted 19 months of debate over the merits and faults of the sanctions among Harvard College affiliates. After this tumultuous and occasionally acrimonious period, we are relieved that we will finally see a concrete policy in action.

This unprecedented intervention of the Corporation in undergraduate social life may appear as an overstep of its power. Nevertheless, the exceptional circumstances surrounding the sanctions justified this input from the Corporation. For one, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences already rejected an opportunity in November to pass a motion presented by Computer Science professor and former Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 intended to obstruct the sanctions. Moreover, as outlined by Faust and senior fellow of the Corporation William F. Lee ’72, the potential implications of the sanctions go far beyond student life at the College, and for that reason the Corporation is responsible for providing input. Lastly, the Corporation’s move will prevent President Faust’s successor from easily altering this policy, thereby guaranteeing the longevity of the policy and enabling the new president to concentrate on more urgent issues.

Regardless of the process behind its implementation, we reiterate our support for sanctions on single-gender social organizations. This measure serves as an initial corrective to the outsized influence of final clubs over undergraduate student life while helping combat their discriminatory practices. Moreover, though Greek organizations are not as deleterious to students’ experience at Harvard as final clubs, we believe with the Faculty view that Harvard should not become a Greek school, and this policy will aid in re-centering social life at the College around the 12 undergraduate Houses.

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Sanctions are a start to shifting power dynamics within these organizations, but diversity and equity will require more time and effort. Although the decision to keep sanctions may induce some male final clubs to become co-ed, the issue remains that the leadership of these organizations, including the graduate boards, will still be entirely composed of men. This asymmetry of power could result in the marginalization of the new members, thereby maintaining the historic gender imbalances in final clubs. Though final clubs cannot instantly change the composition of their leadership, we urge them to quickly promote new members into leadership positions in order to ensure that their new diversity of membership is reflected in their corridors of power.

Moreover, though this policy will advance Harvard’s continued efforts towards inclusivity, it does not address many of the pervasive issues that students belonging to historically marginalized groups face on campus. In the announcement of the Corporation’s move, Faust cited the final clubs’ history as overwhelmingly white, male, and affluent as a driving force behind the sanctions. However, these sanctions will likely have little effect on the racial and socioeconomic makeup of the final clubs, to say nothing of other historically marginalized groups such as the BGLTQ+ community. We hope that these sanctions will further stimulate campus dialogue on issues of inclusivity and that the administration will continue to be aware of exclusion on campus and support further measures in support of marginalized students. Indeed, perhaps the conclusion of the conversation around sanctions that has dominated campus dialogue for the past 19 months will create space for these conversations to flourish.

Finally, the Corporation ought to make an effort to ensure that Faust’s successor will remain an active supporter of this policy. Though it will be difficult for the next president to counteract the sanctions entirely, much of the future of the policy, including its implementation, remains unclear. The new president should embrace this policy so that its integrity is not compromised and its effectiveness is maximized. After more than a year leading towards this historic effort to alter the College’s social landscape, we commend the Corporation for its approval of the sanctions and look forward to future efforts towards campus inclusivity.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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