The Dean of Students Office has made an unprecedented change in the policy guidelines provided to student organizations, saying that they will now discipline extracurricular groups whose leaders or board members are members of unrecognized single-gender social groups. This is the first time that the College has formally introduced a disciplinary process for student organizations whose members do not comply with the sanctions against single-gender clubs since they were announced in 2016. Though there is no formal process for filing complaints, they cannot be anonymous and must be filed by a member of the Harvard community.
When the sanctions were first unveiled in 2016, we were in support of addressing the culture of exclusion and sexual entitlement that plagued and continue to plague Harvard’s all-male final clubs. Still, as we have long asked but have little been obliged, the College’s policies and the goals of those policies need more nuance. In particular, we expressed concern that the blanket sanctions on all single-gender clubs would strip women of empowering social spaces and leave much to be desired in terms of promoting racial and socioeconomic inclusivity in the clubs.
Now, following the DSO’s decision to discipline student organizations who elect members of these social clubs via tips from other students, we ask for more nuance once again. Not only do our initial complaints remain unresolved, but we believe the DSO should consider more carefully how this seemingly simple solution to enforcement may have more complicated implications for student life beyond the mansions of Mt. Auburn Street.
When we asked the College to clarify its stance and provide an actionable, effective way to administer its sanctions, this is not what we meant. To penalize members of student groups who, perhaps unknowingly, elect members of unrecognized single-gender social groups by relying on a non-anonymous reporting system without a formal process is far-reaching and paternalistic. As it stands, this policy has the potential to be intensely disruptive to student organizations — indicative of the DSO’s increasing paternalism over social organizations and student life on campus as well as unfair to students who rely on those organizations as social outlets.
Though Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair said the DSO does not expect students to take on the responsibility of enforcement, we have trouble imagining how this policy might have any sort of impact whatsoever if they don’t. By its very nature, this policy asks students to testify against their peers, engendering a toxic culture of turning student against student, sowing mistrust within extracurricular organizations, and all but ensuring that what enforcement there is will be inequitable. One might speculate that discipline will be determined by whose friends keep silent and whose do not and might only lead to a more exclusive, cultish, and opaque final club culture.
The College should reflect on its initial intentions before continuing to tread halfheartedly down this path. This policy is not a nuanced approach to a complex issue; if anything, it appears to us like a witch-hunt.
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.