A proposal at Harvard University would ban all fraternities, sororities and single-gender clubs starting in fall 2018, a measure that’s largely aimed at the school’s exclusive, all-male social clubs that have been blamed for problems with sexual assault and alcohol abuse.
The recommendation was announced Wednesday by a faculty committee that was created in March to examine the school’s rules surrounding single-gender clubs and suggest improvements. The final decision on any change now falls to Harvard President Drew Faust.
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In its 22-page report, the committee said it hopes to create an environment where clubs “cease to have a pernicious influence on undergraduate life.”
“In order to move beyond the gendered and exclusive club system that has persisted – and even expanded – over time, a new paradigm is needed,” the committee wrote, “one that is rooted in an appreciation of diversity, commitment to inclusivity and positive contributions to the social experience for all students.”
For years, Harvard’s administration has sought to crack down on secretive all-male social clubs that are known on campus as “final clubs.” They include a handful of groups that have been around for decades, including the Porcellian Club, which dates to the 18th century and counts President Theodore Roosevelt among its past members.
But the faculty committee said those clubs are a product of their times and “due to their resistance to change over the decades, they have lapsed into products behind their time.”
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A separate Harvard committee reported in March that members of the clubs have “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and a “sense of sexual entitlement.” A school survey found that 47 per cent of female seniors who interacted socially with the clubs had experienced non-consensual sexual contact during college.
Students and alumni from some clubs have strongly denounced those accusations and said they don’t have problems with sexual assault. Messages left with several final clubs were not returned on Wednesday.
The proposal would forbid students from joining final clubs, fraternities or sororities – even those that are co-ed – starting with incoming students in fall 2018. Students found to have violated the rule would face disciplinary action from the university.
Although Harvard doesn’t officially recognize fraternities or sororities, there are several local chapters open to Harvard students.
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One fraternity, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Massachusetts Gamma Chapter, posted a statement on its Facebook page Wednesday saying the committee “has chosen to dismiss the concerns” of many Harvard College students who’ve benefited from membership in social organizations.
“Our chapter, like many other Greek organizations, is proud to foster an environment where people of different backgrounds, opinions, and identities may come together in authentic ways,” the statement said. “Our open rush process and need-blind financial aid programs are cornerstones of who we are, and we take great pride in recruiting and accepting members of all races, creeds, religions, sexual orientations, nationalities, and socio-economic backgrounds.”
A group that represents three fraternities that include Harvard students also spoke out against the proposed ban.
“Freedom of association and speech are paramount for the intellectual and spiritual growth of students,” Heather Kirk, spokeswoman for the North-American Interfraternity Conference, said in a statement. “We urge Harvard to focus on creating a culture of health and safety on campus that also respects students’ rights.”
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The proposal goes beyond an earlier rule that was announced last year barring members of single-gender groups from serving as sports captains or leaders of other campus groups. That policy drew pushback from students and some faculty, leading administrators to convene the new committee to revisit the issue.
If approved, Harvard would join other colleges that have taken heavy actions against Greek life groups. The Harvard proposal is based on longstanding fraternity bans at Williams College in Massachusetts and Bowdoin College in Maine. More recently, some schools have banned alcohol at fraternity parties following student deaths.
Pennsylvania State University tightened its rules after 19-year-old student Tim Piazza died in February from injuries he suffered during a fraternity pledge night.
The Harvard committee said its proposal is partly a reaction to those types of stories.
“The committee’s deliberations were carried out under the shadow of tragic events relating to hazing and excessive drinking at other campuses across America,” the group wrote. “The Committee’s recommendation is in part intended as a preventative step.”