Harvard bans single-sex club members from leadership

The university hopes to strike down sexual discrimination and harassment on campus

Harvard University will ban members of single-sex clubs, fraternities, and sororities from holding leadership roles on campus beginning in the fall of 2017, officials announced Friday.

Harvard stopped formally recognizing the single-sex social groups known as "final clubs" in 1984, in addition to some fraternities and sororities. There are currently six all-male clubs, five all-female clubs, and two clubs that began accepting women last fall.

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Harvard has long attempted to dismantle "final clubs," named as such because they were typically the last clubs students would join as undergraduates.  Dean Rakesh Khurana has been leading an effort to shut down single-sex social groups after a survey last year found that 47% of senior women who participated in final club activities experienced "non-consensual sexual contact," compared with 31% of all senior women at Harvard.

A March report conducted by the university's Task Force on Sexual Assault Prevention criticized final clubs, particularly the all-male groups, for "deeply misogynistic attitudes" and "a strong sense of sexual entitlement."

Students who participate in final clubs will not be eligible for the dean's endorsement for scholarships and fellowships, nor will they be able to serve in on-campus leadership roles.

It is not clear how administrators would enforce the rule because club membership is not public, but Khurana says he expects students to be honest about their membership.

In their announcement, administrators also said they would continue to boost funding for "alternative campus social opportunities" on campus.

According to current and former Harvard students, non-member men generally are not allowed in single-sex clubs and certain women are only allowed entrance for social occasions at men's clubs. Fewer than 10% of undergraduate students are estimated to belong to final clubs, but the men's groups in particular hold significant sway on campus.

Harvard does recognize some single-sex groups such as sports teams. However, these groups are not primarily social, and will therefore not be subject to the new rule. The change also will not affect current students, nor those entering this fall's freshman class.

Reimagining experiential learning

"Students will decide for themselves whether to engage with these organizations, as members or otherwise," Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said in a letter to the campus community on Friday.

"But just as students have choice, so too the college must determine for itself the structure of activities that it funds or endorses."

She said barring students from participating in final clubs based on their sex "encourages a form of self-segregation that undermines the promise offered by Harvard's diverse student body."

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Similarly, Khurana said single-sex groups "undermine Harvard's campus culture" and "are antithetical to our institutional values."

But not all students agree. Representatives of the all-women final clubs argue that the university will be taking away a safe and empowering space for members. Some leaders of the all-male groups have questioned the results of the university task force survey on sexual assault and say they are being blamed for a problem that runs deep within Harvard's foundation (Malone, Reuters, 5/6; Korn, Wall Street Journal, 5/6).


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