Penalties Now Apply: The Class of 2021 Navigates the Sanctions
Were the sanctions legally sound? Did Harvard need more social organizations, or fewer? Was freedom of association under attack? Did final clubs and Greek organizations have positive or negative presences on campus? From late-night dorm room conversations to sections in sociology classes, Harvard affiliates scratched their heads and debated these questions.
In May 2016, after months of closed-door deliberations, the College broke with its decades-long precedent of turning a blind-eye to unrecognized Greek organizations and final clubs and announced penalties on members of single-gender social organizations.
At that point in time, though, no students on campus were subject to the penalties. The policy would not kick into effect for students until the Class of 2021, who would not set foot on campus for another 14 months.
Beginning with the Class of 2021, the policy bars members of unrecognized single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations, becoming captains of varsity sports teams, or receiving College endorsement for certain post-graduate fellowships.
After over a year of discord amid student and faculty opposition to the policy, it was formally adopted in a fall 2017 decision by the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, at the end of the Class of 2021’s first semester on campus.
Furthermore, many of this year’s freshmen have not yet faced the decision about whether to join an unrecognized single-gender social group, since final clubs do not allow students to “punch” until the fall of their sophomore year.
As clubs who have not complied with the sanctions continue to recruit members, they face a class whose opinions on final clubs and Greek life have increasingly soured.
“I don’t plan to rush. I never planned on joining. Frats aren't really my type of thing,” Hunter D. Mollett ’21 said.
Mollett is one of 19 freshmen interviewed about their opinions of the sanctions for this story. Of the 19, 18 said they did not plan on joining a single-gender social organization.
The Crimson’s annual survey of incoming classes found that interest in joining Greek organizations and final clubs has been waning in recent years. When surveyed four years ago, 45.2 percent of members of the Class of 2018 said they were “somewhat” or “very” interested in joining a sorority, fraternity, or final club. That figure dropped to 41.7 percent for the Class of 2019, and then to 36.7 percent for the Class of 2020.
Surveyed last summer, only 27.6 percent of the incoming Class of 2021 indicated interest in joining these organizations.
The first class of students affected by this policy has reacted to the sanctions in a variety of ways.
Several will wait until next fall to “punch” final clubs or “rush” sororities and fraternities as sophomores. Others will consider joining a single-gender social group.
“I never thought about [joining]. I didn’t even know final clubs existed until I got on campus. They were just never something I was interested in. You have to be the right kind of person to actively know about them and actively pursue being a part of those organizations,” Fatoumata Mbaye ’21 said.
Lila J. Williams ’21 said she originally was interested in joining a sorority but was deterred by the policy. Despite understanding the “motivations behind it,” Williams found the policy “limiting.”
“I think I would have liked to rush a sorority had there not been the sanctions, so I did feel a little bit limited, especially during second semester, when I came in motivated to make more friends,” Williams said. “I think that’s something that would have been nice and would’ve helped with that.”
When asked if she would still consider joining a social group, Williams said she “would consider it, but that’s too much work.”
“I don’t want to go through the whole rush process,” she said.
Meanwhile, several freshmen had negative opinions of single-gender social groups. Amir K. Hamilton ’21 said he would be “limiting” himself by joining one of these organizations.
“I think it's kind of gross that you'd want to arbitrarily limit your social sphere in some way to just, like, half of people. And so I wouldn't want to be part of any sort of single gender social organization,” Hamilton said.“Mostly because my friends are of various genders and I feel like if I were to put myself in a place like a final club where that sort of stuff isn’t really a thing, I’d be limiting myself.”
Ethan M. Schultz ’21 agreed with Hamilton’s belief that these organizations can inhibit diversity among friend groups.
“Part of the reason I came to Harvard was for its diversity, and so I think that by going to a final club or joining one, I'll be eliminating one of the benefits that I was looking for in a university. So I generally approve of the sanctions by the administration,” Schultz said.
Asked about some final club graduates' negative response to the sanctions in a recent interview, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana pointed in part to the College's mission.
"At Harvard, we have a very specific mission of educating citizens and citizen leaders for our diverse and interconnected society," Khurana said. "We do not believe that it is effective to basically institutionalize segregation."
Some students interviewed had mixed views on social groups.
While a majority of surveyed incoming students in the Class of 2021 indicated they were not interested in joining a single-gender social group, only 35 percent of students surveyed said that they found the sanctions at least somewhat favorable. Meanwhile, over 40 percent found the penalties at least somewhat unfavorable. Over 5 percent indicated they did not have enough information about the sanctions.
Hamilton said it would be “gross” to join a final club. But he said he does not wish to prevent others from doing so.
“With the whole sanctions thing, I’d be more on the side of, like, if people want to do that they can, but I don’t want to be part of that myself,” Hamilton said.
Cesar A. Haig ’21 said he does not have a strong opinion of single-gender social groups.
“I mean, I largely think if people want to participate in an organization, people should be able to participate in that organization... There are co-gender organizations and there are some single-gender organizations,” Haig said.
“It seems like some people really enjoy it, and it doesn’t seem like that many people have a problem with it," Haig said.
Emily A. Romero ’21 said she ultimately does not believe that single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations have a place at Harvard.
“I do believe that single-gender organizations do not belong on this campus, and after everything that’s happened, they should not be allowed the freedoms that they’ve had. But I don’t know if sanctions are the solution,” she said.
As Haig, as well as his classmates in the first class to be subject to the College’s policy, try to make sense of the complex story of the sanctions—much of which unfolded before their arrival on campus—he believes tensions over the future of single-gender social organizations will eventually die down.
“They’re just organizations, and if it becomes a problem that they’re single-gender, people are probably going to move to other organizations. It’s like economics and stuff, right? I’m really bad at Ec10,” he said.
—Staff writer Cassandra Luca can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cassandraluca_.—Staff writer Meena Venkataramanan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mvenk82.
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