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May 10 2016

Harvard's Efforts to Make Its Single-Sex Student Organizations Go Co-ed Is Opposed by...Harvard Women

Charlotte Allen

Heh heh--guess who's protesting Harvard's sanctions against its single-sex student "final clubs" that are supposedly "the exclusive preserve of men"?

Harvard women!

According to WBUR:

Dozens of students marched around Harvard Yard Monday, saying the move unfairly hurts Harvard women.

Shouting “Hear her Harvard,” the protesters — who were mostly women, many belonging to all-women final clubs or sororities — said Harvard’s restrictions would deprive women of spaces away from men.

The women say these spaces are necessary to foster self-confidence on a campus where they say men tend to be overbearing in class and disrespectful in social situations.

Seems that when Harvard administrators made their big move last week to force the off-campus clubs to go co-ed by sanctioning Harvard students who joined them, they forgot that some of the reputedly misogynist clubs were were actually sororities and other organizations whose members are exclusively female--and that that's the way their members like it.

The target of Harvard's vendetta was supposed to be the ultra-secretive 225-year-old Porcellian club, open only to male Harvard students and drawing its members from an upper-crust demographic that  seemed to have gotten under the skin of some administrators. Porcellian and the other elite final clubs (so-called because they're the last clubs that students join before graduating) had once been officially affiliated with Harvard, although their clubhouses were off-campus. But when the university issued an earlier decree for them to go co-ed, in 1984, the clubs severed those official ties while continuing to draw their membership from Harvard. Some of the clubs have since agreed to admit women under relentless pressure from Harvard, but Porcellian has been an outspoken holdout. According to the Washington Post:

After a university task force found that the Porcellian Club and its ilk (there are eight all-male final clubs, according to the Harvard Crimson) held “deeply misogynistic attitudes” that contribute to an unsafe sexual environment, pressure mounted for the clubs to either admit women or risk sanctions.

Last Friday, university officials took their strongest action yet, announcing that new college students who join “unrecognized single-gender organizations” will not be eligible for leadership positions in recognized student groups, including sports teams, nor will they be recommended by the Harvard College dean for prestigious academic awards such as the Rhodes Scholarship....

Letters from Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust and Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana endorsing the new policy emphasized gender equality.

“For us to make progress … we must address deeply rooted gender attitudes, and the related issues of sexual misconduct,” Faust said. The college cannot “endorse selection criteria that reject much of the student body merely because of gender.”

But the problem is that single-sex organizations on elite college campuses, far from withering away amid the eradication of "deeply rooted gender attitudes," are actually more popular than ever. During the 32 years since 1984, Harvard has seen the revival of Greek-letter fraternities (long officially abolished by Harvard)--and the birth of Greek-letter women's sororities as well as five new all-female final clubs. Harvard doesn't officially recognize any of those organizations, but some 30 percent of Harvard students are said to belong to them. Thus, according to the Post:

The unexpected consequence of the penalties, then, is to prevent women from associating under their gender as well, prompting all-female groups to ask the administration to consider them in a different vein from their all-male counterparts.

“Basking in the praise of the national press for its efforts to make all-male final clubs go co-ed, Harvard has left out an important piece of the story: female final clubs,” three female students wrote in an op-ed for the Harvard Crimson.

They argued that while women would remain disenfranchised within the hierarchies of historically male clubs, the act of making historically female clubs go co-ed would effectively cause them to “die out,” as they lack the resources to compete.

The students further accused Harvard of pushing for “hasty, symbolic victories” as a “form of damage control” after negative media attention on final clubs.

“The support systems, safe spaces, and alumnae networks the women’s clubs have been striving to build will disappear,” they wrote. “That strikes us as a tremendous waste, and an ironic one, given Harvard’s stated goals.”

Of course, if Harvard lifts the sanctions against all-female student organizations, it's hard to see why it should continue to penalize all-male organizations--so Harvard's now in a gender-bind that's delicious to contemplate. Seems that the self-righteous smarty-pants at Harvard haven't been so smart after all.



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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