In 2016, Harvard administrators took an unprecedented step to challenge centuries-old institutions that have long been at the center of many Harvard undergraduates' social lives and unveiled a policy penalizing members of final clubs and Greek organizations. The policy, a reversal of a largely hands-off attitude that administrators had held for decades towards the social groups, was the result of months of closed door meetings and deliberations.
Early in the year, a University-wide task force released a report on sexual assault prevention that blasted all-male clubs for fostering “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and emphasized higher reported incidences of sexual assault among College women “participating in the Final Clubs.” The task force called on the College to develop a plan to address the clubs.
But final club leaders contested the findings of the report, and one club commissioned an analysis that sharply questioned the University’s findings.
Public debate over the task force report carried on alongside closed-door meetings between administrators and final club members. Efforts to push clubs to adopt gender neutral memberships, led by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, were met with firm and sometimes-public resistance.
In April, the then-graduate board president of the traditionally taciturn Porcellian took the unusual step of publicly criticizing the College’s actions. Making national headlines and sparking widespread condemnation, the comments led to an apology from the Porcellian president and his resignation from the graduate board.
On May 6, University President Drew G. Faust announced the new College policy, which, starting with the Class of 2021, will prohibit members of clubs and Greek organizations from becoming leaders of recognized student groups, holding varsity captaincies, or receiving College endorsements for prestigious fellowships.
Despite a number of supporters, including certain professors, varsity coaches, and members of the Harvard Corporation, the sanctions drew harsh condemnation from many students and some alumni. After the policy’s announcement, hundreds of women rallied in Harvard Yard in opposition to the College’s policy.
Meanwhile, the committee tasked with determining the details of the policy’s implementation—including how it will be enforced and what qualifies as a “leadership position”—is set to submit final recommendations to Khurana next semester.Of the traditionally all-male clubs, only the Spee Club has permanently adopted gender neutral recruitment practices, a change they enacted before the policy was announced. This fall, the traditionally-female Sablière Society announced plans to adopt gender neutral practices.