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This past July, a faculty committee released a preliminary report recommending that the College ban students from joining all fraternities, sororities, and similar exclusionary social organizations. The policy would extend to co-ed organizations, and it would replace the existing penalties on members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations.
We support this recommendation, and we urge University President Drew G. Faust to do so as well. It importantly expands the discourse beyond issues of gender inequality and sexual assault to the role exclusionary social organizations play in perpetuating outdated notions of elitism, classism, and exclusivity on campus. The report rightfully highlights how these organizations impact students’ sense of belonging at Harvard, especially those who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Given the serious influence of final clubs on the daily social life of Harvard undergraduates, we see this recommendation as necessary.
However, our support does not come without reservations about the process. The composition of the committee is primarily faculty members, and they may not be close enough to student life. Although their input is welcome, the weight of the decision should rest with deans and administrators who are trained to have student social life under their purview. Moreover, as we have opined in the past, we wish it was possible for administrators to better distinguish male final clubs and sororities. If the committee seeks to combat exclusivity and foster belonging, arguably sororities can provide a supportive role by giving women a social space on campus.
Most importantly, however, although we commend the report’s emphasis on issues of belonging, Harvard has been unclear about the direction it seeks to take on social groups. While the existing penalties seek to reform such groups by promoting gender inclusivity, the new recommendations argue that the exclusivity that social groups promote merits a ban in itself, and reform is not enough. This lack of direction was particularly apparent in Crimson reporting that revealed that only seven of the 27-person committee voted in favor of the social club ban. The plurality of the group—12 members in total—voted to simply form a new committee on social groups. Given the significant impact these policies will have on the future of social life at Harvard, more clarity and transparency about the decision-making process is necessary.
Other considerations must be also taken into account should Harvard decide to implement this recommendation. Without the events that social groups provide, Harvard must commit to increasing the budget for student social life and creating better physical social spaces. Beyond Harvard social events, student organizations will continue to play a critical role in organizing social spaces for students on campus. Harvard must ensure that student organizations do not further perpetuate exclusivity in the way that exclusionary social groups have by mandating membership policies and social events that are accessible to all undergraduates.
Harvard must also look to comparable schools for better models of student social life. While the committee examined Williams College and Bowdoin College as schools that have successfully banned social groups, schools like Yale—yes, Yale—could be a better example of how Harvard might deal with its larger student body. Opening more accessible, designated party spaces similar to Yale’s nightclub, Toad’s, could foster a stronger sense of inclusion and belonging for all students.
The faculty committee is right to focus on issues of exclusivity and belonging on campus. We hope that President Faust makes a decision largely aligning with what they have recommended. Above all, we hope we can move forward in promoting an inclusive social life for all students, regardless of background.
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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