Women’s Spaces Erased

Women’s final clubs first emerged at Harvard University in 1991—which did not directly admit undergraduate women until the 1970s—closely followed by sororities in 1993.

Dismantling off-campus social groups in which one-third of women on campus have found significant support and improved mental health outcomes is both illogical and harmful. When the rationale for doing so is based on a perceived necessity to curb men’s behavior, it becomes indefensible.

Undergraduate woman

Harvard University

1.Before Harvard’s policy was implemented, membership in women’s sororities and final clubs was at a record high, with students finding the organizations to be a forum for women to forge deep friendships, debate public and personal issues from female perspectives, and to help each other grow into mature, successful women.

2.The groups gave women an opportunity to feel ownership of a piece of their college experience by creating something built by women for women. Bonds persisted well after college through alumnae networks that provided mentorship and support after graduation.

3.Yet, Harvard’s policy has erased these supportive, empowering women’s spaces—in the name of promotion diversity and inclusion, a contradiction in terms.

4.Women’s organizations have been devastated by the sanctions’ implementation. In response to Harvard’s policy, almost all of the all-female social clubs open to Harvard women—its once vibrant sororities and its women’s final clubs, whose missions were to create opportunities, resources, and sustainable networks for women in social, educational, and professional environments—either closed or had to renounce their proud status as women’s social organizations and commit to admitting men.

5.Forcing sororities and women’s final clubs, through threats and intimidation of their members, to admit men disrupts the missions and expressive characteristics of the groups founded on the basis of sisterhood and designed to create environments in which women could support and empower one another.

6.This decision of the Harvard Corporation tells women that—for their own good—they can’t join groups without the presence of men and must submit to the control of often male administrators.

7.Yet, evidence persists that students at Harvard value a single-sex experience—even in university-sponsored activities. Harvard’s highly competitive women’s crew team continues to compete under the name “Radciffe Crew,” honoring its founding at Radcliffe College, the female counterpart to the all-male Harvard University, until the merger of the two in 1999.

By forcing women to make an impossible choice—between holding leadership positions and applying for scholarship and fellowships or being members of communities specifically designed to support and empower college women to have those aspirations—Harvard administrations placed our chapter in an untenable situation.

Mandy Burgett Wushinske

International President, Kappa Alpha Theta