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“A transformational college experience… [is] rooted in the ideal of intellectual exploration, in the pursuit of connecting with people who are different from you and learning from them, and in the process of reflecting on what you've learned and deciding what kind of person you want to be.”
So spoke then-newly-appointed Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana in Sept. 2014, as he sought to establish guiding principles upon which to base his coming deanship. But since proclaiming his mission as such, Khurana has continuously failed to uphold this promise of individual freedom to grow, to reflect, and most importantly, to decide. The sanctions policy regarding single-gender social organizations, which restricts the autonomy of students in choosing their associations, is evidence of just that.
Now, as Harvard struggles to define itself in a new social age, exemplified by the Stand Up to Harvard movement, the dissonance of Rakesh Khurana and his fellow administrators regarding the single-gender social group policy must come to an end. By moving to phase out social organizations which for centuries have had a formidable presence on Harvard's campus, the University strikes out against the very principles which it claims to herald.
No longer may sororities serve as safe spaces for the women within; no longer may a diversity of thought differing from the Cambridge norm prosper; no longer may bonds of camaraderie and friendship develop without the interfering hands of those fearful of personal freedoms.
To claim that single-gender organizations are wholly free of harm would be foolish. Yet the same issues which the University claims to address through the shuttering of these groups will exist regardless of these measures. Proponents of the phasing out of so-called discriminatory social clubs cite problems which prevail across society, seeking to pinpoint blame on these select institutions. Sexual assault is a real, threatening issue, but restricting all single-gender social organizations is not the solution. In reality, all-male final clubs and fraternities simply suffer from the same issues of assault as do all campuses nationwide. Forcing change does naught but eliminate the opportunity to address those problems head-on.
By punishing women seeking safe spaces in Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, or Kappa Kappa Gamma, Harvard makes evident discrepancy in and failure of reasoning. Can sexual assault be the justification for a forced closure of sororities? Alternatively, does a policy that forces the closure of female-only spaces really combat sexual assault?
The answer is no, and the notion that such a conclusion may be defended is ridiculous. This facade of progressiveness put forth by Khurana thus collapses when scrutinized more deeply. In reality, the policy doesn’t help women at all.
Finally, such radical action against those participating in organizations external from the University, restricting fellowship availability and forbidding club officership, runs counter to higher education's purpose: the free exploration of thought. By restricting students’ right to freedom of association, Harvard is limiting their ability to truly choose their transformative experience.
Where does it end? There's a fine line once individual freedoms begin to be suppressed. Why should Harvard, which claims to curate the highest caliber of students, dictate their lives outside campus?
In 2016, former University President Drew G. Faust declared to then-graduating seniors that "telling your own story, a fresh story, full of possibility and a new order of things, is the task of every generation, and the task before you," echoing promises of intellectual exploration by Khurana.
This promised liberty of choosing one’s own path is made hollow by such obstructions to individual actions. And the ability of students to craft their own narratives freely could only become more limited should Harvard act similarly in related situations. This abstraction of discrimination can be made applicable to any comping process, to any niche student group, to any non-fully-inclusive student gatherings. And that’s frightening.
Although the debate over single-gender social organizations may seem to have subsided, the actions of the University continue to threaten the individual freedoms of the student body and must be countered with an equally fair argument. To stand idly as the promises of higher education, of the enrichment of the mind and of thought, are violated, constitutes a disservice. Students must continue to speak out. And if Harvard is to remain at the forefront of higher education, the University must respond by changing the policy and choosing to uphold the underlying principles of Veritas abandoned by Khurana — of truth and student freedom of self-determination.
Noah D. Dasanaike ’22, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Canaday Hall.
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