Harvard Is Sued For Its Single-Sex Sanction By Greek Houses

Several national fraternities and sororities are suing Harvard University on Monday, December 3, over a 2016 rule that discourages students from joining single-gender social clubs by blocking them from leadership opportunities on campus.

The two lawsuits against Harvard have marked the first legal challenge to the school’s policy, according to the Harvard Crimson.

What Happened?

Two fraternities and two sororities filed two lawsuits against Harvard University on December 3, one in federal and one in Massachusetts court. Both cases argue that the school’s policy discriminates against students based on their sex and spreads negative stereotypes about students who join all-male or all-female organizations.

Harvard officials have not provided any comment about the lawsuits, according to NBC News.

Harvard’s policy, endorsed by then-president Drew Faust, the first woman to lead the school, didn’t amount to a ban. Instead, starting with the Class of 2021, the rules exclude members of single-sex clubs from leading sports teams and recognized student groups and from being endorsed for fellowships such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

Harvard officials crafted the rule to curb secretive all-male groups known as “final clubs,” whose members include some former U.S. presidents but have come under mounting scrutiny in recent years.

A 2016 report by the school accused the clubs of having “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and tied them to problems with sexual assaults, according to Bloomberg.

But the rule also applies to other groups, including fraternities, sororities and even choir groups that have gone co-ed amid pressure from the school.

The sororities suing Harvard in federal court are Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, whose local chapters disbanded and said they would become co-ed groups. The two fraternities in the federal suit, Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon, say they have struggled to recruit students and have faced financial difficulty with fewer dues-paying members.

“The common thread that ties together all of Harvard’s ever-shifting justifications for the sanctions policy is sexism,” the suit states. “Harvard’s views that all-male organizations cause sexual assault because they are all-male, and that there is no value to all-female or all-male organizations, are sexist in the extreme.”

Also suing Harvard in the federal case are two anonymous male students who say they have been unfairly denied campus leadership roles because of the rule, and another who is not subject to the policy because he’s an upperclassman but said he has faced negative stigma created by the rule.

Harvard does not officially recognize any fraternities or sororities, but several have been available to Harvard students in the past, often with houses located near campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Stand Up To Harvard”

The group leading the charge against the university goes by the name “Stand Up to Harvard,” which writes on its website: “Before Harvard announced sanctions that punish students in single-sex social organizations, one in four undergraduates belonged to sororities, fraternities or all-women’s or all-men’s final clubs–opportunities protected by Title IX and the First Amendment.

WE STAND UP: Harvard has imposed a policy that punishes students for simply belonging to a private, single-sex organization. Students have the right to shape their own futures—it’s time to stand up to Harvard! Take a stand with us! #standuptoharvard https://t.co/GtujU893Qa pic.twitter.com/UVaH3bZWUW

— North American Interfraternity Conference (@nicfraternity) December 3, 2018

“Starting this fall, members of those organizations are, in a word, blacklisted–stripped of opportunities to hold leadership roles in Harvard organizations and athletic teams and to obtain post-graduate fellowships and scholarships influenced or controlled by Harvard.

“This decision was made unilaterally and rubber-stamped by the self-selected Corporation board behind closed doors, ignoring protests from students, faculty, parents and organizations.”

Announcing the lawsuits on December 3, “Stand Up To Harvard” wrote on its site: “Today, sororities, fraternities and students filed a pair of lawsuits challenging a Harvard sanctions policy that punishes who join off-campus, single-sex social organizations. The lawsuits describe how Harvard used a campaign of threats and intimidation to scare students into abandoning their fundamental rights to free association and to live free of sex discrimination.”

The lawsuits argue that the rule has primarily harmed women’s groups, many of which have disbanded or started accepting men to avoid the school’s sanctions.

“These students are being punished simply for joining private, off-campus, lawful organizations,” former international president of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority Laura Doerre said at a news conference Monday. “They are being punished for being women who simply want to have an association with other women.”
The group’s efforts have inspired hundreds of current and former fraternity and sorority members to speak out on social media under the hashtag #standuptoHarvard.

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