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Alpha Phi Returns to Campus, Joins Lawsuit Opposing Sanctions

Bid Day 2018
Alpha Phi members gather outside the Sheraton Commander on bid day.

Harvard’s chapter of sorority Alpha Phi — which shuttered in response to the College’s social group sanctions in August — is back in business.

The group’s Iota Tau Cambridge chapter returned to campus in November. On Monday, it joined Alpha Phi’s national parent group and the Delta Gamma Fraternity Management Corporation as plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging Harvard’s social life policy violates Massachusetts state law.

Alpha Phi is now the only all-female social organization at Harvard, ending a monthslong period during which Cambridge boasted zero women’s-only social groups.

Over the past year, every single one of Harvard’s all-female groups chose to go co-ed, thus earning College recognition and exemption from the sanctions. The penalties — 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.

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The Cambridge Alpha Phi chapter was the last Harvard-based sorority to shift policies in response to the sanctions. The group was forced to disaffiliate from its national organization, Alpha Phi International.

Alpha Phi International wrote in an August press release agreeing to honor the Cambridge chapter’s dissolution that the group chose to go co-ed “in direct response” to the sanctions.

The Harvard chapter reversed tracks and petitioned the national organization to reissue its charter on Nov. 9, according to its lawsuit against the University. The suit states Alpha Phi decided to reopen because it recognized the sanctions constitute the “unjust destruction of women’s spaces and women’s rights.”

Alpha Phi International granted the request on Nov. 19.

Even though Harvard Alpha Phi has now reopened its doors, the group is not what it once was, according to the suit.

“Eleven former members, including approximately five who are current sophomores, have rejoined or expressed interest in rejoining,” the suit states. “Now reopened, the chapter is but a shadow of the dynamic organization that once existed, because the Sanctions Policy has deterred Harvard women from joining or rejoining Iota Tau.”

The lawsuit ties the decline in student interest in Alpha Phi directly to the sanctions. The sorority “peaked at 160 members in 2017, but membership fell sharply after Harvard announced and began to implement its Sanctions Policy,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit also notes that — in an apparent violation of the College’s social group policy — “some current sophomore members and alumnae in the group hold leadership positions in campus groups at this time.”

Alpha Phi and Harvard could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

After severing ties with Alpha Phi International in August, several former members of the sorority formed a new, co-ed group called The Ivy.

That group will continue to exist on campus separately from the newly reopened Alpha Phi chapter, according to messages sent in an internal Alpha Phi chat and obtained by The Crimson. Members of The Ivy will not be subject to the sanctions because the College granted the group recognition after it adopted a gender-neutral membership policy.

Lawyers argued in public filings that Alpha Phi returned to campus in order to make a public show of defiance against the sanctions. In the chat, group members also wrote it was important to reopen the Cambridge chapter to support Alpha Phi International’s lawsuit.

Alpha Phi president Amelia M. Apgar ’20 wrote in a message to former sorority members that the chapter “decided it was important to establish a presence on the campus due to the international lawsuit,” alluding to the fact that Alpha Phi is an organization with chapters in both the U.S. and Canada.

She wrote in another message that the new Alpha Phi chapter planned to go “underground to keep sophomores as safe as possible, however they deem most appropriate.”

Alpha Phi had previously announced its return to Cambridge in a public Instagram post.

In addition to the Massachusetts state suit filed Monday by Alpha Phi and two other Greek groups, a set of fraternities, sororities, and anonymous Harvard students filed a separate federal complaint the same day alleging the sanctions violate Title IX and constitute sex discrimination.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at caroline.engelmayer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at michael.xie@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.

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