We realize that including freshman women as members in our organizations is in contravention of the current sanctions Harvard’s administration has imposed on single-gender social groups. These sanctions have been touted as a response to the recommendations of a report on sexual assault prevention. Yet penalizing our future members for their involvement in a sorority in reality denies them access to member-driven education and support systems shown to be effective in battling sexual assault, as well as alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and the particular challenges inherent in college life. Further, while Harvard’s sanctions claim to support women’s right to make their own decisions, these sanctions actually force women to choose between the opportunity to have supportive, empowering women-only spaces and external leadership opportunities.
I would have hoped for a principled position in favor of free speech and associational rights for all students, not just women. It is not clear if the sororities are suggesting that the ban can continue to apply to male-exlusive groups but not to women-exclusive groups.
For its part, Harvard has dressed up its draconian rule in Orwellian terms of freedom: “Ultimately, students have the freedom to decide which is more important to them: membership in a gender-discriminatory organization or access to those privileges and resources.”
Notably, one member of the board that promulgated this rule wanted to go further. History Professor James Kloppenberg wanted to expel students who belonged to single gendered groups (even off campus). He predicted that the school will eventually adopt such a rule and conditions an education on not joining male-exclusive or female exclusive groups.
As many on this blog know, I tend to favor free speech and associational rights in such disputes. The regulations and punishment of students and faculty for their associations outside of school creates a chilling effect on free speech. Moreover, it allows for a host of such limitations based on majoritarian values.
What do you think?