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Harvard Pauses Recognition of New Student Orgs, Leaving Unrecognized Clubs Without Resources

The Dean of Students Office will not recognize newly formed student organizations for the 2023-24 academic year.
The Dean of Students Office will not recognize newly formed student organizations for the 2023-24 academic year. By Michelle Liu
By Ella L. Jones and John N. Peña, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard College Dean of Students Office will not recognize newly formed student organizations for the 2023-24 academic year, according to a Sept. 13 statement from Assistant Dean of Student Engagement and Leadership Andrew Donahue.

The pause on recognition of new clubs “will allow the Dean of Students Office and Office of Student Engagement to conduct a thorough assessment of the independent student engagement environment on Harvard’s campus,” reads the statement.

The DSO first proposed a freeze in recognizing new student organizations in April, when Associate Dean for Student Engagement Jason R. Meier said it would give the DSO a chance to address an imbalance between the number of clubs it supports and the resources it has to do so.

Though the decision was first publicized in Donahue’s statement, which was embedded in the Sept. 14 Harvard College weekly update newsletter, an email obtained by The Crimson shows that the DSO had turned away new club applications since as early as July.

The pause is the latest in a series of interventions by the College — including updated restrictions on Harvard branding guidelines and DSO plans for an audit of independent student organizations — that have increased the regulation of student organizations.

According to Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo, the College recognizes more than 470 independent student organizations. Clubs receive benefits related to event advising and planning, on-campus recruitment, use of the Harvard College name, support services, and finance and fundraising management, per Harvard’s student organization handbook for the 2023-24 year.

For undergraduates who entered the academic year with plans to start a new organization, the freeze in club recognition means they must operate without the benefits held by recognized student organizations.

Dalal M. Hassane ’26, a student organizer working to start a Kurdish Cultural Association, said the club will need to look toward other sources to support programming because Harvard Undergraduate Association funds are reserved for recognized student organizations.

Hassane, a Crimson Editorial editor, developed plans to start the club before the pause in recognition was proposed last spring. She added that it will be difficult for the new club to grow its standing on campus without being recognized as a club by the DSO.

“Without this official recognition, there can be some difficulties in being more visible on campus and really letting people know that we have a presence as Kurdish students and as people who want to bring awareness to the Kurdish culture and history,” she said.

Sofia G. Melnychuck ’26, a co-founder of the International Folk Dance Club, said the organization’s most pressing issue as an unrecognized group is that it lacks a regular place to host its weekly Sunday meetings.

“The main thing is that right now we are practicing outside,” she said. “And last one it was raining, but we still have very committed members that are willing to show up in the cold and in the rain.”

According to the 2023-24 resource guide for student organizations, only officers of recognized student organizations can make room requests for hosting club events.

Some students are turning to creative ways to create new organizations and still access DSO resources.

Ivan A. Garcia ’25 is currently working to establish what he dubbed the “Union College Club.” The club aims to foster connections between other undergraduate institutions and provide networking opportunities and pre-professional training to Harvard students.

In order to gain access to College funding and use of the Harvard name, Garcia hopes to get his club “temporarily adopted” by a pre-existing organization.

As the president of the Colombian Students Association, Garcia plans to bring his idea to the club’s board in order to “start getting the ball rolling with activities within this club while being a seed product of another.”

HUA Co-Presidents Shikoh M. Hirabayashi ’24 and John S. Cooke ’25 said in an interview that they are against the recognition pause, with Cooke citing the importance of students’ “freedom to start whatever clubs they choose.”

“We’re really disappointed in this decision. From an HUA standpoint, we’re going to try the best we can to support student organizations in any form — that’s students looking to start new ones and that’s already existing one,” Cooke said.

Hirabayashi added that he and Cooke plan to host a slate of town halls to meet with student organizations in the coming months to “ensure support and solicit advice on how we can best support not just the current student orgs but, more importantly, the people who want to begin new student orgs.”

Palumbo — the College spokesperson — reiterated in his statement the DSO’s goal of using a temporary pause to assess “independent student organizations currently in operation and to provide recommendations for a sustainable path forward.”

“We are grateful to the students who are participating in the review and look forward to providing an update to the community when the work is complete,” he wrote.

Palumbo declined to comment on when the DSO’s review will conclude or on student frustrations, though Donahue’s statement noted that new club recognition is expected to resume in fall 2024.

Despite the DSO’s messaging on the reasoning behind the club freeze, students questioned whether the office had made the most productive choice.

“It’s a little bit sad and disappointing,” Melnychuck said.

Hassane said she views the DSO’s efforts to review the student organization landscape as “important,” but she maintained that a freeze on recognizing new organizations ultimately hurts Harvard’s club ecosystem.

“I think there are ways — in order to go about this review process — while still giving new student groups and new student organizations the space to organize,” she said. “I really don’t think this was the best decision.”

—Staff writer Ella L. Jones can be reached at ella.jones@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @ejones8100.

—Staff writer John N. Peña can be reached at john.pena@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @john_pena7.

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