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The Administrative Board will enforce the College’s penalties on members of single-gender social groups, the College announced Thursday as part of its long-anticipated final implementation plan for its controversial social life policy.
Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair emailed the plan, developed in large part by the Office of Student Life and hosted on a newly debuted Harvard website, to students Thursday morning. The guidelines—initially slated to be released at the start of the spring semester—detail exactly how the College will implement its sanctions.
Starting with the Class of 2021, the penalties—the subject of more than a year of campus debate and protest—bar members of unrecognized single-gender social groups from holding campus leadership positions or varsity athletic team captaincies and from receiving College endorsement for certain fellowships.
“This is primarily a social policy. Our expectation is that it will be adjudicated through the Administrative Board,” O’Dair said in an interview Wednesday. “If there are questions about what body this would go to, the Danoff Dean of Harvard College, currently Rakesh Khurana, would be the individual who would make that decision.”
“But our expectation is that the Administrative Board will,” she said.
Though the College has finalized its plan, the sanctions themselves are not yet fully finalized—per O’Dair’s email Thursday, the College will formally request that the sanctions be incorporated in the Harvard College Student Handbook. This means the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will need to formally vote to accept or reject the penalties as part of the handbook.
The choice to task the Ad Board with enforcing the sanctions goes against previous implementation recommendations Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana accepted in March 2017. The March proposals—authored by a committee charged with recommending how to implement the sanctions—suggested the Honor Council help enforce the policy.
The final implementation plan also reverses several other key recommendations in the March report, according to O’Dair and Assistant Dean of Student Life Alexander R. Miller. O’Dair and Miller said in an interview Wednesday that—contradicting previous proposals—the College will not require students to sign a pledge affirming their compliance with the policy; will not mandate that social groups publish demographic breakdowns of their memberships; and will not offer a transitional program for all-female social groups.
The March report recommended the College offer a three to five year “bridge” program during which all-female social organizations could retain their gender-focus without penalties. But the final plan cancels this suggestion.
The new plan also expands the number of campus leadership positions subject to the policy—positions which students in single-gender social groups will be unable to hold. In addition to all recognized student groups, the policy will also apply to College-affiliated and Phillips Brook House Association student programs.
But—as Khurana wrote in a March 2017 letter to students—the sanctions will not apply to leadership positions on The Crimson and the Undergraduate Council.
O’Dair and Miller detailed the reasoning behind the College’s decision to overturn some of the March recommendations in the interview Wednesday.
The March 2017 implementation report specifically suggested students seeking leadership positions, captaincies, and fellowships sign a written statement affirming their commitment to “nondiscrimination on the basis of characteristics of ‘intrinsic identity,’ including gender.” But O’Dair said the College ultimately decided a pledge was unnecessary.
“What we did not accept is any pledge or affirmation by students,” O’Dair said. “The change in this is that we… have accepted approaching this with trust, honesty, and transparency.”
Administrators also ultimately decided against the proposal that unrecognized single-gender social groups submit demographic breakdowns. The March report suggested some social organizations affected by the policy should regularly publish breakdowns of their membership, an initiative meant to hold the groups to “higher expectations” than “currently existing recognized groups.”
But Miller said Wednesday he thinks this suggestion is unnecessary.
“We don’t do that with recognized organizations, so we would not do that with these types of organizations,” Miller said.
The two administrators also discussed the College’s next steps regarding the social group penalties—both in the next few weeks and the next few months.
O’Dair and Miller said the Office of Student Life will not immediately publish a comprehensive list detailing which campus social groups are subject to the policy. The decision not to compile a list breaks with a promise Khurana made in a Dec. 2017 interview. At the time, Khurana said he would make sure that the list of affected organizations—first catalogued in the March report—is “up to date.”
Miller said he thinks it is still too early for the College to make and publish a definitive list.
“Once we’re in a place where we have some commitment from these organizations, groups who are interested in this provisional status, we will partner with them to release that information,” Miller said. “Because, for them, they’re also learning what does this mean to go gender-inclusive? So, it’s a little premature to share those names at this point for us.”
Over the past three years, at least seven of Harvard’s formerly single-gender social groups chose to go co-ed, raising the question of whether they are still subject to the College’s penalties. Some of these organizations have worked with administrators as they transitioned to gender-neutral membership practices.
In one example, members of the Fleur-de-Lis—formerly Harvard’s chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma—said the group partnered with the College in its efforts to go co-ed.
Miller said organizations currently working with representatives at the Office of Student Life will be “fine”—meaning not subject to the penalties.
“For the groups that are working with us, we’ve made clear to them that now, you are fine as long as you’re talking with us and you’re working with us,” Miller said.
He said the groups choosing to cooperate with the Office have demonstrated they want to work “to the end of gender-inclusivity.”
Regarding long-term implementation, O’Dair said the College will not enforce the sanctions by actively searching for students who violate the policy. She also said Harvard will not solicit or act on “anonymous complaints” to discover violators.
She said any kind of anonymous system is “not what we are, in our community.”
“We trust our students, and we’re going to inform our students, we inform our students of all policies,” O’Dair said. “We are not going to undertake any efforts to go find students. We’ve been really clear about that.”
O’Dair and Miller did not specify further how the College plans to determine whether or not students are in violation of the sanctions.
The website-hosted guidelines administrators debuted Thursday also specify the Office of Student Life will work with the Athletics Department to ensure the penalties are enforced across varsity athletic teams. The Office will “partner” with the department to make certain that—when student-athletes vote to choose team captains—they “are aware of the current policy.”
Finally, the plan released Thursday announces the Office of Student Life plans to create a “new framework for governing primarily social organizations.” O’Dair wrote in an email to students she hopes this framework will be released in “the coming months” and be implemented next fall.
The social groups eligible for this new system will not include currently recognized student organizations, according to O’Dair’s email. Miller said Wednesday that eligible groups will comprise organizations that are “on this road of being part of the larger college organization landscape.”
He said he and other administrators are still working with students “to really figure out what that means.”
Asked why the College wants to create a new governance system for a new category of social group, Miller said the Office of Student Life has “a lot of different things to consider.”
“These are things that I would like to think about with these groups that I currently don’t think about with the math club,” Miller said. “There is a lot of liability when you throw a bunch of college students in a room to socialize.”
“So, at the core there, it requires me to think differently,” he said.
In the coming spring and fall semesters, O’Dair said the Office of Student Life will continue to work with social groups to bring them into compliance with the College’s policy.
“This next step that we are doing in the policy development is to figure out what are those criteria by which groups will be adherent to the policy, whether or not that leads to an official recognition, whether or not that leads to some annual adherence to the policy,” O’Dair said. “I just want to be really clear that we haven’t figured that out yet, but that is our next step in the process.”
—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.
—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.
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