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College Surveys Recognized Social Club Members on Harvard Social Scene

The Fleur-de-Lis, a Registered Social Organization, hosted an event during the first-ever RSO rush in February 2019.
The Fleur-de-Lis, a Registered Social Organization, hosted an event during the first-ever RSO rush in February 2019. By Anthony Y. Tao
By Samuel W. Zwickel, Crimson Staff Writer

The Dean of Students Office is requesting that members of Recognized Social Organizations complete an online survey as part of an “assessment” of the new club category, asking them to evaluate Harvard social life to give the College a better understanding of the organizations.

Katie Colleran, senior director of student organizations and resources in the Dean of Students Office, emailed the questionnaire to student leaders of the College’s 13 RSOs – former single-gender social organizations that adopted co-ed membership policies after the College debuted its controversial sanctions policy in May 2016. They received a link to an anonymous 15-question form surveying their experiences with RSOs and the social scene at Harvard more generally.

“With this whole process being new, we at the College know very little about what you all have been doing with your recognition and how you have been contributing to campus,” Colleran wrote in the email to RSOs. “Many still feel lingering negative stereotypes toward your groups based on past interactions with social orgs. I want to give you a chance to tell us the positive that you have been up to, the way you have been contributing to a robust social scene at Harvard.”

The sanctions — which took effect with the Class of 2021 — bar members of single-gender Greek groups and final clubs from holding leadership positions in student organizations, securing varsity athletic team captaincies, and receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships like the Rhodes.

The survey poses a free-response question asking respondents to “define the ‘social scene’ at Harvard” and rank the factors that motivated them to join an RSO. It also asks students to rate whether they’d be “least likely,” “likely,” or “most likely” to be found in various locations “on a typical weekend night” and prompts them to type statements about how RSOs and their members “contribute to a vibrant and inclusive student experience” on campus.

The survey responses – anonymously reported and not tied to individual RSOs – will be aggregated and used by the DSO for a broader project aimed at assessing the nature of undergraduate social life, according to the email sent to RSOs. Colleran wrote in an email to The Crimson that she will be holding focus groups on the College social scene this semester.

“Numerous students have expressed to me wanting changes to Harvard’s social scene, so I am inviting them to speak with me about those ideas,” Colleran wrote in an email to The Crimson.

The DSO is offering a “prize” to one of the groups if the office collects 200 or more survey responses, according to the email sent to RSOs. The incentive “centers around supporting them in hosting a social event” with a College-provided venue, food, and financial resources, Colleran wrote in an email to The Crimson.

Students will have until March 15 to fill out the survey.

DSO administrators recently praised turnout for recruitment events organized jointly by four of the RSOs. Nearly 400 students registered to participate in a week of activities at the start of the semester.

Though some social organizations have changed their membership policies to comply with the College’s rules, others have refused. Harvard is currently facing parallel lawsuits in state and federal court, with several national Greek organizations and unnamed undergraduates alleging the sanctions constitute sex-based discrimination and interfere with students’ freedom of association. University attorneys deny the claims and have asked the judges to dismiss the complaints.

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

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