The College’s penalties on members of single-gender social organizations could just be the beginning of a broader effort to reduce the social influence of final clubs and Greek organizations if the current policy does not do so adequately, University President Drew G. Faust said in an interview Friday.
“As we said when we issued the policy in the first place, it might turn out to be an interim step if we felt that the policy had not succeeded in addressing the concerns about exclusion and hierarchy, both gender and other forms of hierarchy that the current arrangement with single-gender student organizations has reified on the campus," she said.
In previous interviews, Faust has said membership in final clubs should not be based on “accidents of birth,” and that club membership is unlikely to be representative of the socioeconomic and racial diversity of the College. But beyond prompting some of the groups to become gender-neutral, Faust said that the policy is intended to diminish the social cachet of the groups in undergraduate social life.
“My hope is that the policy will accomplish changes in the nature of those organizations that will give them less magnetism, force, status within the larger community, so that they can exist and be whatever they are, but they don’t set a tone for everything else,” she said.
The policy, proposed by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana in May 2016, bars members of single-gender social organizations, starting with the class of 2021, from receiving College endorsement for select fellowships and from holding leadership positions in student organizations or captaincies on Varsity teams. An implementation committee has since expanded the list of honors and organizations that will be off-limits to members of noncompliant social organizations.
A faculty committee is now re-examining the policy, which could be “revised or replaced.” In the past, Faust has said she is open to alternatives to the current policy, and in her initial communication about the policy in May she wrote that she did not support banning membership in single-gender groups outright “at this time.”
Although the policy was originally billed partly as an effort to address sexual assault, administrators have framed the policy around promoting inclusivity and dismantling what Khurana called “exclusionary values that undermine those of the larger Harvard College community.”
Administrators hope gender integration will serve as the mechanism for doing so. By pushing clubs to go co-ed, Faust said she aims to break their dominance in the Harvard social scene.
"It also arose from the sense that the policy could disempower those organizations within student social life in a way that would accomplish our goal of building an overall inclusive environment on campus,” Faust said.
Since then, four social groups have adopted gender neutral membership policies in order to comply with the policy, and their future members will not be penalized. Per recommendations from a committee tasked with implementing the policy, the College has created a “provisional social organization” designation for clubs who maintain “non-discriminatory membership requirements.”
Faust said she met with members of implementation committee last week to learn more about their recommendations.
Faust said she hopes to return to the clubs to the periphery of undergraduate social life. In conversations she’s had with alumni, she said she has learned that a generation ago, final clubs did not host large parties, existing instead as members-only spaces on the periphery of undergraduate social life. That changed after the mid-1980s, when the federal government effectively raised the drinking age from 18 to 21, Faust posited.
“There were just a bunch of people who had embraced a level of privilege and community that they enjoyed, but it didn’t inhibit anyone else’s sense of importance or belonging or presence,” Faust said. “I think when the drinking age changed, it gave the single-gender social organizations a kind of aura and power that has distorted undergraduates’ social life since then, and we’re trying to undo that prominence and that authority in a sense, that status that these clubs have.”
A 1958 Crimson article described the scant influence of the clubs at the time, stating that “an overwhelming majority of students have no concern for clubs at all” and referring to them as “little bastions of society in a university world that no longer cares.”
Faust makes her comments as the policy is again under construction. The faculty committee reviewing it will report to Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael D. Smith, and Faust will approve the final policy. In March, Smith announced that Khurana would co-chair the committee—an appointment some faculty members criticized at a faculty meeting earlier this month.
In an interview Friday, Faust said she believes Khurana must lead a committee whose recommendations he will be tasked with implementing.
"I think he absolutely needs to be in that position, because he’s a person who is going to have to execute any policy changes and whatever the policy is, and he understands the complexities of that, he understands undergraduate student life, he’s very embedded in it,” Faust said. “He needs to have his voice in shaping what comes out and his expertise applied to the discussion, not just to be presented with something that he is forced to own but has had no input into making."
The faculty committee is slated to release a report in the fall.
—Staff writer Claire E. Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.
—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared
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