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Student Life Committee Plans Review of Student Groups’ Comps

Lamont
The Committee on Student Life meets in the Lamont Library Forum Room at 8 a.m. once each month.

The Committee on Student Life discussed an assessment of the social group sanctions, preparations for the new Allston campus, and a prospective audit of student organizations’ “comp” processes in its first meeting of the year Thursday.

The CSL — an advisory panel that includes Harvard administrators, faculty deans, house committee chairs, and Undergraduate Council representatives — first considered evaluating comps at a February meeting. At that meeting, several committee members argued that some organizations’ requirements are “detrimental to campus culture.”

Comps are training and vetting procedures required for membership in many student organizations at the College. They can take the form of auditions, applications, interviews, required meetings, or some other demonstrations of proficiency. Some student groups require students to complete a set of requirements to secure admission, while others hold more selective competitions and cut applicants who do not meet their standards.

“We’re more so describing comps in which it seems arbitrary why a comp is necessary, where there are many people who could benefit from being part of that organization, and it doesn’t need that level of cuts, or exclusivity,” UC President and CSL member Sruthi Palaniappan ’20 said in an interview Thursday.

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Winthrop House Resident Dean Linda Chavers, who sits on the CSL, wrote in an email that the committee hopes the proposed comp audit will promote accessibility in extracurricular organizations.

“Regarding the question of eliminating comps it is my opinion that all of us in this community have an obligation to continuously examine and interrogate any and all existing structures and systems that might possibly uphold the status quo of inequality and elitism on our campus,” Chavers wrote.

Members of the CSL also proposed the idea of conducting a survey to collect more data on students’ experiences with comps.

Palaniappan said in an interview Thursday that the UC implemented a similar “Q Guide for comps” a few years ago. She said she believes the UC’s attempt faced “some pretty major challenges” because respondents had very strong opinions either in favor of or against specific comps.

“But I think doing more anecdotal information collection from students and hearing about these comps in particular would be useful for the purposes of the UC,” Palaniappan said.

Alongside the comp audit, the CSL will also help the Dean of Students Office plan an assessment of student groups more broadly. That probe will explore “member numbers, contributions to the Harvard community, and planned activities,” according to Katie Colleran, senior director of student organizations and resources in the Dean of Students Office.

The CSL will also provide a formal assessment of the social group penalties in 2023, as former University President Drew G. Faust stipulated in a January 2017 statement to the Harvard community.

The social group policy — which took effect with the Class of 2021 — bars members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from holding campus leadership positions and athletic team captaincies, and from receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships.

Colleran, who also serves on the CSL, will provide the committee with “concerns” from last year, ideas for “forward progress this year,” and a “recap” of the status of social groups that have gained formal College recognition and exemption from the penalties.

Though an official review of the policy by the committee is several years away, Associate Dean of Student Engagement Alexander R. Miller and Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair said in a Tuesday interview that they have observed a “culture shift” on campus as a result of the policies. This fall, the DSO outlined a formal procedure by which extracurricular organizations can be punished for electing leaders who are members of single-gender social groups.

The CSL will also offer recommendations regarding transportation, food options, and accessibility in the new campus across the river in Allston, Palaniappan said. The Allston campus is slated to open in fall 2020.

“I think [the CSL] will be mainly providing input to groups such as the Registrar’s Office which deals a lot with scheduling and focuses on more of the academic side, but that also relates to transportation needs on campus,” Palaniappan said. “I know we’ll be talking with those respective offices that also deal with dining, thinking about ways to open up potential cafes that we also have in the Yard.”

—Staff writer Sanjana L. Narayanan can be reached at sanjana.narayanan@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Samuel W. Zwickel can be reached at samuel.zwickel@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @samuel_zwickel.

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