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Why Harvard is wrong
With this policy, the University has said, “If you want to be a Harvard student, the Constitution doesn’t matter.” Harvard is interfering with students’ rights protected by the 1st Amendment, the 14th Amendment, and Title IX—a dangerous precedent by America’s bellwether higher education institution. Harvard has singled out sororities, fraternities and final clubs—private, off-campus organizations with no formal Harvard tie. Yet, the University is harming their ability to recruit and sustain membership. Harvard is blacklisting students for choosing opportunities that fit their needs and help them find a critical sense of belonging while at college. Students deserve the right to shape their own path on campus. It shouldn’t be dictated to them by administrators with an axe to grind. Harvard’s new policy forces conformity at the expense of individual and group rights and denies students who participate in these organizations the leadership experiences that help fulfill its own mission.
Women Are “Collateral Damage”
Harvard administrators told members of all-women’s groups that they were “collateral damage” in the University’s efforts to eliminate men’s groups. Women have suffered the most with the policy’s implementation. All of Harvard’s women’s social clubs—whose mission are to create opportunities for support, growth and development—have closed or been forced to renounce their proud status as women’s organizations and go co-ed. In an attempt to deal with concerns related men’s behavior, this policy erases supportive, empowering women’s spaces—in the name of “protecting” women. This decision tells women that they can’t join groups without men “for their own good.”
The policy steals opportunities from and harms women and students of color. Women’s and culturally-based, single-sex social groups provide powerful experience for marginalized students. Removing affinity spaces for these students goes directly against the stated goal of inclusivity. Sexism pervades the policy’s consequences, as well as the process to create it. The administration only spoke to graduate members of men’s final clubs until just before the policy was introduced—feedback from women’s organizations and even men’s fraternities was “an afterthought.” Remarkably, a Harvard student could join the American Nazi Party and still captain the soccer team, but not belong to a sorority. In its ever-shifting reasoning for the policy, the administration gave women’s groups several years to co-educate, which highlights their bias against men—"gender discrimination to further gender nondiscrimination.” As Dean Rakesh Khurana stated when he introduced the policy, “Stereotypes and bias take hold, normalizing in a community behavior, which should be unacceptable.” Yet, based on its own biases around gender, Harvard seeks to dictate gender norms to which men and women must conform, as well as the sex of people with whom students may associate.
A Culture of Power and Fear
The potential harm of this effort reaches beyond freedom of association to principles of free speech, thought, and expression. Harvard has instituted a culture of fear—students are afraid to speak out about the policy knowing that the University’s retribution will negatively impact their future educational or professional opportunities. Extending such a restrictive and regimented approach to campus social life stifles student creativity and smothers students’ rights. Mandated conformity cannot be in the service or spirit of diversity. Harvard thinks it is above the need for its students to participate in anything beyond Harvard. And in doing so, it robs students critical opportunities for mentoring, networking, personal growth and leadership.