In a move that breaks with at least five years of precedent, the Cambridge-Area Panhellenic Council, which governs Harvard’s three sororities, have decided not to release recruitment numbers from this year's rush. Reports, however, indicate that the number of students rushing sororities has more than halved as the sanctions on unrecognized single-gender social organizations—a broad classification which includes fraternities, sororities, and final clubs––have been implemented. This sudden drop in student interest represents a precipitous end to years of steady membership growth for Harvard’s sororities.
The sanctions on single-gender social groups, which were recently affirmed in a vote by the Harvard Corporation, carry severe consequences. Starting with the Class of 2021, which arrived at Harvard last fall, students who are members of final clubs or Greek organizations will not be allowed to hold leadership positions in recognized student organizations, become varsity captains, or receive endorsements from the College for a number of prestigious fellowships. Not all new sorority members are freshmen, but many are, and will therefore face these repercussions.
Although it has become clear since the Harvard Corporation’s vote that the aforementioned penalties will be instituted, exactly how the administration will execute them remains stunningly unclear. Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana—who, along with University President Drew G. Faust, championed the sanctions policy from its inception—has declined to comment on how the sanctions will be implemented or when that decision will be announced. Consequently, we worry that current freshmen do not realize the gravity of the punishment they are voluntarily taking on.
We respect the College’s decision not to rush the implementation of the sanctions, but we are concerned that administrators have not adequately informed freshmen about exactly how the finalized sanctions will be enforced––even though recruitment for many single-gender groups have started and concluded. We believe this makes the sanctions seem less definite and undermines their legitimacy.
As a result, we believe sororities themselves should take strides to inform their would-be members about how their lives will be affected by the sanctions. Three Harvard sororities have chosen to remain single-gender this year in in spite of the sanctions. It is incumbent upon them to explain the consequences of joining to potential new members.
Unlike in previous years, membership in these social organizations will have tangible negative effects for current freshmen. It would be contrary to the principles of these organizations, built on women’s empowerment and female friendship, to accept applicants without properly reinforcing the ramifications of joining.
Beyond potentially confusing freshmen, the convoluted sanction implementation process gives rise to a further dilemma. Without a proper enforcement mechanism in place, the sanctions might be easily circumvented. Despite the ostensibly well-purposed “bridge program” the administration has announced that will allow all-female social groups to keep a “gender focus” for at least three years, we are concerned that unrecognized social organizations—particularly male and female final clubs—will use the guise of being “single gender-focused” to remain, in practice, single gender.
By taking advantage of this apparent loophole in the sanctions, these organizations might harm groups that are truly gender-neutral and focused on female empowerment.
We are not aware of how administrators plan to determine whether or not these “gender focused” clubs have truly gender neutral membership. For example, the Fleur-de-Lis, formerly Harvard’s chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma and the first sorority on campus to go gender-neutral, has claimed that it refused to solicit demographic information related to gender identity from its members. We thus urge the College to consider soliciting this demographic information from technically “gender-neutral” organizations in order to gauge their progress.
As freshmen begin to navigate an unfortunately and increasingly complicated social scene at Harvard, we hope that the College will serve as a guide and support, rather than source of confusion. Simultaneously, we encourage the upperclassman leadership of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations to build communities that can include and accommodate them under the new sanctions.
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.