Standing Up to Harvard

Several national fraternities and sororities sued Harvard University on Dec. 3 over a 2016 rule that discouraged students from joining single-gender social clubs. Starting last year, Harvard began to enforce a rule barring members of single-gender groups from leading other campus groups or becoming captains of sports teams. The school also refuses to endorse students of single-gender organizations by preventing them from receiving prestigious scholarships and fellowships.

University officials formulated this rule to prevent secretive all-male groups known as “final clubs”. Even former presidents were members of these clubs, but they are facing large amounts of criticism from the university. In 2016, a report by the school accused these clubs of having “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and tied them to problems of sexual assaults on their campus.

Although the sanctions were crafted with the correct intentions, the rules apply to a variety of other groups such as fraternities, sororities and even single-gender music groups. Due to the rule’s effect last year, at least three sororities with relations to Harvard have had to cut ties with their national organizations and reopen as co-ed.

Harvard does not recognize any fraternities or sororities; however, there are several available to Harvard students often with houses located near campus. Being a member of such groups may result in a loss of scholarship or financial aid from the school.

Two sororities, Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, are suing Harvard in federal court following the closure of their local chapters due to national policies. Fraternities Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon are involved with the federal suit as well. They claim to have struggled with recruiting students and have been faced with financial problems due to fewer paying members.

The suit claims that the common thread between these sanctions is sexism. It states, “Harvard’s views that all-male organizations cause sexual assault because they are all-male, and that there is no value to all-female or all-male organizations, are sexist in the extreme.”

Also suing Harvard are two male students who say they have been unfairly denied campus leadership roles because of the sanctions. Their suit states that Harvard’s rule violates the law known as Title IX, which prevents discrimination based on sex in schools that receive funding from the government. It states that Harvard is singling out individuals for punishment because of their sex and stereotypes of the organization.

Both lawsuits in state court argue that the rule violates civil rights laws in Massachusetts and is unconstitutional. They believe they are being prevented their right to freedom of assembly during this process. Freedom of assembly is defined as, “The right to hold public meetings and form associations without interference by the government.” Freedom of peaceful assembly is protected and guaranteed by the First Amendment.

All suits against Harvard demand a jury trial and ask the courts to stop the University from enforcing such a policy.