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For HCFA, Probation to Have Little Immediate Practical Effect

Harvard College Faith and Action occupies offices in a building on Massachusetts Avenue near Harvard Yard.
Harvard College Faith and Action occupies offices in a building on Massachusetts Avenue near Harvard Yard. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Caroline S. Engelmayer and Michael E. Xie, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard College Faith and Action will not lose the ability to book rooms, recruit students, or receive Undergraduate Council funding as part of its year-long probation imposed by the College, according to the group’s parent ministry and messages obtained by The Crimson.

In late February, the College announced it had put HCFA on probation for 12 months after the religious group asked a woman in a same-sex relationship to step down from a leadership position in Sept. 2017. Administrators have repeatedly refused to say whether probation means HCFA has lost privileges accorded to recognized student groups, including the ability to reserve College spaces, poster on campus, and participate in activity fairs.

Now, though, Harvard officials seem to have decided HCFA’s probation will have little immediate practical effect.

“It has been confirmed that the probation status of HCFA means no loss of privileges from Harvard College itself in the form of room booking and student outreach,” Christian Union—HCFA’s parent group—wrote on a website page titled “Harvard Recognition Blog.”

HCFA held its weekly worship event, Doxa, last Friday—post probation—in Yenching Auditorium, a Harvard space.

The Office of Student Life also told UC leadership that HCFA was not banned from Council funding per the Office’s policies, according to UC group messages obtained by The Crimson.

“Apparently HCFA is not actually banned from UC Funding per the OSL,” Henry S. Atkins ’20, UC finance committee chair, wrote in a message to the committee last week. “Next week, I will ask for a vote on whether or not that should be the case.”

The Council previously thought probation meant HCFA was automatically barred from receiving funds from the UC’s finance committee. Operating under this belief, members voted down a measure that would have prevented the religious group from receiving any Council funding last week.

Atkins said in an interview Monday night he plans to bring forward legislation barring HCFA from receiving all UC funding at a finance committee policy meeting slated to be held Wednesday evening.

“Why the OSL is deciding not to follow [the probationary UC funding ban] in this case I don’t know, I think they certainly should be,” Atkins said. “I think absent their action on this, what we should be doing is we should be trying to make sure [HCFA is] not being funded until they leave administrative probation.”

In an emailed statement Monday, Associate Dean of Student Engagement Alexander R. Miller declined to comment on the specifics of HCFA’s probation.

“We are working closely with the leadership of HCFA to ensure that they are in compliance with all of Harvard’s policies with respect to recognized student organizations,” he wrote. “While we will not discuss specific details regarding discipline of students or organizations, we look forward to continuing our work and dialogue with HCFA.”

Miller did not answer a question asking whether Christian Union is correct in asserting HCFA has not lost room booking or student outreach privileges as a result of its probation. Christian Union representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The Office of Student Life website currently defines the consequences of probation only for recognized student organizations who have failed to complete the mandatory annual renewal of their College recognition. The office places those groups on semester-long probation and revokes privileges including the ability to reserve campus spaces and receive funding from the UC and College offices, according to the website.

Administrators previously told HCFA leadership that the religious group was the first-ever campus organization to be placed on "administrative probation."

Harvard’s decision to put HCFA on probation came after the Office found that HCFA had behaved in a manner “grossly inconsistent” with College guidelines for recognized groups, Harvard spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman wrote in an email last month. College spokesperson Rachael Dane previously said HCFA will need to sever ties with Christian Union in order to regain recognized status.

The Office of Student Life “was alerted to a situation in December” regarding HCFA and has been “reviewing” the organization ever since, Goldman wrote in the Feb. 2018 statement.

HCFA’s co-presidents Scott Ely ’18 and Molly L. Richmond ’18 did not respond to a request for comment.

In earlier statements, Ely and Richmond maintained HCFA never fell out of compliance with Harvard’s non-discrimination guidelines.

“We reject any notion that we discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in our fellowship,” the co-presidents wrote in an email in February. “Broadly speaking, the student in this case was removed because of an irreconcilable theological disagreement pertaining to our character standards.”

On its website, Christian Union called the probation “an unfortunate action” taken against “one of the most popular student organizations on campus.” With roughly 200 members, HCFA is the largest Christian fellowship at Harvard.

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

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