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Dean of Students Lauds Gender-Neutral Social Club Recruitment

Dean O'Dair Interview
Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair discusses undergraduate student organizations in a Tuesday afternoon interview in University Hall

Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair said in a Tuesday interview that College administrators are “encouraged” by “strong student interest” in social organizations that recently adopted gender-neutral membership policies in accordance with College regulations.

The clubs, known as Recognized Social Organizations, abandoned their single-gender status in the years since the College debuted its social group sanctions policy in spring 2016. The penalties — which took effect with the Class of 2021 — bar members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from holding student group leadership positions, securing varsity athletic team captaincies, and receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships like the Rhodes.

In January, four RSOs – the Fleur-de-Lis, the Ivy, the Kali Praxi, and the Themis Asteri Club – coordinated joint recruitment activities hosted in College-owned spaces. Nearly 400 students registered to attend the events, which marks an approximately four-fold increase over the historically low interest in all-female Greek groups last year.

O’Dair said she was pleased to hear about the turnout for the recruitment events given the the groups’ recent membership transition.

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“We hope to continue that work in supporting those organizations, encouraging students to explore possibilities of membership in those organizations,” she said.

When asked about whether or not the social group sanctions are achieving their intended purpose, Associate Dean of Student Engagement Alexander R. Miller said in the Tuesday interview that “it’s too early to kind of tell on either end.” The College has most recently stated that its social group policies are part of a larger effort to eliminate discrimination of any kind on Harvard’s campus.

“I think for right now we should just relish in the fact that students, 400 students, were interested in participating in a social organization that is gender-inclusive,” Miller said. “I think the numbers don’t lie here. I think students are kind of looking for something different.”

“We are, you know, leading a change here in the history of the scope of American higher education,” he added.

Despite administrators’ enthusiasm for the new gender-neutral groups, some Harvard affiliates are fervently opposed to the sanctions; several final clubs and Greek organizations have refused to go co-ed.

In December 2018, a group of sororities, fraternities, and several anonymous undergraduates filed parallel lawsuits against the University in federal and state court, alleging the policies are unconstitutional and constitute sex-based discrimination. The plaintiffs include international organizations for sororities Kappa Kappa Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, and Alpha Phi, and a management corporation for chapters of Delta Gamma. Harvard’s attorneys moved to dismiss the complaints and have disputed the plaintiffs’ claims.

Plaintiffs in the federal case will file a formal response to Harvard’s motion by March 22.

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

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