On Monday, Greek organizations filed two lawsuits in federal and state courts against Harvard. The organizations allege that the College’s social group policies constitute sex-based discrimination. These misguided lawsuits by mostly national entities challenge the College’s sanctions at the expense of a more equitable student experience. The resurgence of this issue underscores the need for the College to clarify and strengthen its worthwhile social group policy, and the need for Harvard to vigorously defend the policy.
The plaintiffs of the two suits, comprised mainly of the national or international parent organizations of a number of single-gender social groups, are concerned about the continued existence of their groups on campus. However, by suing Harvard they are inappropriately injecting themselves into the policies and internal politics of the College. We remain supportive of the sanctions; as we have written, they serve as “an initial corrective to the outsized influence of final clubs over undergraduate student life while helping combat their discriminatory practices,” and we maintain this belief.
These lawsuits may end up serving little purpose beyond draining University funds and time should they go to court. And given the languorous rate at which these lawsuits are likely to progress, the sanctions will remain settled policy at the College for the time being. The administration should act accordingly and not stand down. Particularly with renewed attention to the sanctions and potential doubt in their future, it is past time for the College to clearly and forcefully convey the rationale for the policy.
There are two main steps that the College should take. First, it should clarify the role of the sanctions and strengthen their enforcement mechanism. Many members of the Class of 2021 are now members of final clubs, fraternities, and sororities, speaking to the urgency of instituting the policy. Yet enforcement mechanisms remain shockingly opaque, and the sanctions will not reach their full potential without clear methods for enforcement. It is vital for the College to have a clear and concrete plan for handling breaches of the policy. With this once-internal Harvard debate now played out on the national stage, this issue is especially important.
Moreover, the College should fully elaborate the rationale for the sanctions. Administrators have changed the rationale for the sanctions policy over time. Originally, the sanctions were meant to combat sexual assault. This justification was replaced with an emphasis on the gender exclusivity of the final clubs, fraternities, and sororities. Most recently, the goal of the sanctions seems to be a first step in eliminating all forms of discrimination on Harvard’s campus. This new lawsuit means that the University’s rationale for the sanctions will be evaluated and scrutinized. As such, administrators should make the reasoning for the sanctions clear and firmly support it.
These lawsuits may well generate a groundswell of public opposition to Harvard. We implore the College to stand up against the force of its critics. Though imperfectly introduced, the sanctions are a badly needed means for combating discriminatory policies and the hegemony of exclusive, single-gender groups on campus. They remain an important mechanism for achieving a better undergraduate experience for all students.
This staff editorial 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.