There is a controversy surrounding a suggestion that appeared as part of a sexual assault study conduct by a Harvard task force that would bar students from joining its all-male final clubs. Such exclusive clubs are denounced as perpetuating a “harmful sexual culture.” Notably, these are private all-male organizations with no relationship with the university but the task force suggests that it could dictate such associations for its students. The report focuses on all-male rather than all-female clubs. These clubs are characterized as having “men in positions of power engaging with women on unequal and too often on very sexual terms.” While it is not clear what support this “idea” for possible action has garnered at the school, conservative publications have said that there have already been threats about disciplinary actions for students associating with such clubs. It is important to note that this does not appear to be the thrust of the report (which is linked below), which suggests a wide range of remedial and preventive measures. The main concern is an appendix associated with the task force, available here. One of the ideas is “Either don’t allow simultaneous membership in Final Clubs and College enrollment; or allow Clubs to transition to all-gender inclusion with equal gender membership and leadership.”
The suggestion of a ban on “simultaneous membership in final clubs and college enrollment” is unnerving for many. The suggestion is that clubs may be put on lists to allow the school to “provisionally register[ing] all-gender clubs for monitoring” and “requir[ing] they have ongoing sexual assault education and assigned sober bystanders at social events.”
The task force added “Students understand that Harvard’s centuries-long history as a predominantly white male institution creates an imprint on their educational experience, but they expect to see progress moving forward.”
Witnesses reportedly said that Stephanie Khurana, a task force member and one of the campus dorm heads threatened to seek expulsion for students who joined the clubs subject to expulsion.
It is unclear what Harvard would do with its various women-only clubs. The statements from the task force were directed at male-only clubs. The report says “Cultures that reflect male control and exclusivity encourage the marginalization of women and assumptions about sexual entitlement.”
We have been discussing the rapid decline of free speech rights at universities and colleges in this country. This report reflects a similar attack on associational rights. If the university wants to ban all exclusive clubs and organizations, including all-female organizations, and force diversity among memberships, it would have a more principled positions to advance. However, it is problematic to characterize all-male clubs as raw example of male domination while accepting all-female clubs as examples of empowerment. Ironically, we discussed a few years ago how Harvard had no difficulty in excluding males from work out facility to guarantee women-only programs. These moves reflect an abandonment of long-standing efforts to achieve gender and racial equality. Instead, the new movement seeks to selectively fight segregation in some areas while embracing it in other areas.
I have serious qualms about colleges dictating what organizations are acceptable for students, particularly organization not associated or funded by the university. Should students also be disciplined for being a patron at restaurants deemed sexist like Hooters or strip clubs? If students are to be punished for their associations that “reflect male control and exclusivity,” then what is the distinction when those students regularly go to businesses deemed to have the same sexist profile?
The use of university authority to force students to adhere to mandated values or approved associations is deeply troubling. I have no problem with advocates calling for male students to avoid such clubs and to discourage female students from attending parties at the clubs. However, in the end, these are adult students who should be allowed to make their own choices, even if the task force deems them bad choices. In the name of gender equality, such moves eviscerate values of free speech and association.
Once again, this suggestion was in an appendix and many of the findings of the task force are insightful and useful. However, given the comprehensive attack on free speech on our campuses, the suggestion of such a rule is unnerving for many.
What do you think?
Here is the report: Sexual Assault Task Force