Harvard’s move to punish single-sex organizations is a step backward for progress

How Harvard got it wrong

President Drew Faust of Harvard recently announced that from the Class of 2021 onwards, anyone who is a member of a single-sex Final Club or Greek life will be ineligible for leadership positions on sports teams or other university-recognized organizations, as well as endorsement for fellowships like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

The Harvard administration justifies its decision claiming:

“In recent months we have been forcefully reminded that diversity is not equivalent to inclusion and belonging, and we have rededicated ourselves to achieving a campus where all members fully belong and thrive. For us to make progress on this shared endeavor, we must address deeply rooted gender attitudes, and the related issues of sexual misconduct, points underscored by the work of the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault.”

While Harvard’s goal for inclusion and working to eliminate sexual assault is noble, the decision to punish students in single-sex organizations by banning them from leadership positions on campus is counterintuitive. And let’s not even get started about the hypocrisy of a school that costs more than $60,000 a year and accepts only six percent of applicants claiming to stand against exclusion.

Remember when single-sex organizations were considered empowering for women? A place where women could take on leadership roles and build each other’s confidence and character? Where women looked out for the safety and well-being of each other? Yeah, Harvard wants to eliminate that.

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Harvard claims to want to mitigate sexual misconduct on campus, but then decides to eliminate the groups and social situations where women are not pressured sexually. As a sorority member myself, I have never felt more safe than when I am in a room with 100 of my sisters looking out for me. Even when I am out at events that are not Greek related, I have girls who look out for me and check in on me throughout the night. The new policy being enacted at Harvard will make students choose between having that support system and having a leadership role in another extracurricular activity – which hurts instead of helps women.

Take a look at Yale’s campus: the co-founder and co-director of Unite Against Sexual Assault at Yale would have to quit her sorority in order to continue her work in fighting sexual assault on campus. A handful of female team captains would have to step down from their position or drop out of their Greek organizations (including the 2016 captain of the field hockey team – Yale’s first varsity sport for women). All the members of female senior societies like WIPs, DSG, and Red Mask (which was founded by the first female graduating class at Yale) would be barred from holding any leadership positions at Yale or applying for a Rhodes scholarship. All because they chose to be a part of groups on campus which offer leadership, social and developmental opportunities to women, even though traditionally, female students did not have access to these on campus.

How is that making progress?

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