This week, Harvard College rescinded a controversial policy that penalized student members of fraternities, sororities, or other single-sex organizations. It’s about time.
Beginning in 2017, Harvard subjected to punishment any student who chose to join an “unrecognized” single-sex organinzation. Students who joined such groups were forbidden from holding on-campus leadership positions or from serving as captains of school athletic teams. Harvard also refused to recommend students who joined single-sex clubs for prestigious postgraduate fellowships.
Ironically, although Harvard suggested that it adopted the policy out of a concern for gender equity, the result of the policy was that nearly every women’s social organization at Harvard College closed their doors, while many male-only organizations continued to operate as usual. This was not a good outcome for the women of Harvard.
As the sororities who challenged the policy in state and federal court argued, membership in a single-sex organization can be empowering for women, offering them a safe haven where they can develop lifelong friendships and leadership skills. Harvard’s ban on single-sex groups harmed female students by denying them access to mentoring and networking opportunities.
Harvard’s policy raised serious freedom of association concerns. With the rescission of the Harvard policy, students can once again choose to freely associate with students of the same gender and avail themselves of the benefits of single-sex organizations.