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Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana repeatedly pointed to previous statements instead of directly answering questions about a pair of lawsuits alleging the College’s social group sanctions are discriminatory and unconstitutional in an interview last week.
A group of international fraternities and sororities and three anonymous College students filed the pair of suits — one in state court and the other in federal court — on Dec. 3. The state suit alleges Harvard’s social group policy violates the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act and Constitution by denying students equal treatment on the basis of sex. The federal suit accuses Harvard of violating federal anti-sex discrimination law Title IX and the United States Constitution.
Harvard’s sanctions — which took effect with the Class of 2021 — bar members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from holding campus leadership positions, varsity team athletic captaincies, and from receiving Harvard endorsement for prestigious fellowships like the Rhodes.
Asked about the sanctions in an interview Friday, Khurana repeated almost verbatim parts of a previous statement issued by Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane. Khurana said the College hopes to build a “culture and community” through a “foundation of belonging and inclusion and non-discrimination.”
“Harvard should not have to change its educational philosophy or mission and commitment to nondiscrimination for outside organizations that do not align with these commitments and values,” Khurana said.
He added the social group policy is meant to provide support for organizations that promote the College’s “principles of non-discrimination and inclusivity” and that faculty and administrators do not believe Harvard should become a “Greek school.”
“For more than a century, Harvard has not been a Greek school — that is a school that has a fraternity and sorority system,” Khurana said. “As the faculty, as President Faust, as the Harvard Corporation reaffirmed in 2017, it is the expressed belief and expectation of this community that we should not become a Greek school.”
After providing the statement, Khurana said that — given the lawsuits are pending — he has “no further comment on this topic.” When asked specifically about allegations listed in the lawsuits, Harvard’s reaction, and the University’s planned response to the litigation, Khurana repeated the sentence five more times.
In response to a series of other queries about the suits, the dean repeated segments of his initial statement.
When asked about his reaction to the state lawsuit’s assertion that current sophomores in sorority Alpha Phi “hold leadership positions in campus groups at this time” — an apparent violation of the College’s social group policy — Khurana said he trusts College students.
“I trust our students. I think our students are remarkable individuals,” Khurana said. “I know that society believes that Harvard College students should embody the best of what we can possibly be and I trust our students will live up to those standards and expectations.”
Asked what would happen if students fail to live up to Harvard's standards, Khurana said he would appeal to undergraduates' better natures.
"I would ask each student, just as I would ask in any situation where a student might think about not being the best version of themselves, to think about that," he said.
Correction: Dec. 12, 2018
A previous version of this story and its accompanying headline incorrectly stated that Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana did not answer a single question about the pair of lawsuits challenging Harvard's sanctions in an interview last week. In fact, Khurana repeatedly pointed to previous statements instead of directly answering questions about the suits. The article has been updated.
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—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.
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