Enforcing Social-Club Sanctions Won’t Require Oaths

Harvard College spells out how its new policy will be enforced.

Detail of the entryway of the A.D. Club, a male final clubPhotograph by Daderot/Wikipedia

The College’s policy to sanction members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations (USGSOs) won’t require that students make an oath-like affirmation that they don’t belong to such clubs. That controversial measure had originally been recommended in a March 2017 report to College dean Rakesh Khurana by a committee examining implementation. Dean of students Katie O’Dair, whose office is tasked with enforcing the policy, announced the implementation plan in an email to College students this morning; the Office of Student Life (OSL) has created a website with details. 

The policy, as previously reported, prohibits students who have belonged to single-gender social organizations (including final clubs and Greek organizations) within the previous year from receiving College endorsement for fellowships, or holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations or athletic teams. It applies to students matriculating in the fall of 2017 (current freshmen) or later. The Harvard Corporation voted to retain the sanctions in December, after a year and a half of intense debate across the Harvard community that included concerns over gender equality, students’ freedom of association, and faculty governance of the College.

OSL appears to have created a less punitive plan than what was recommended by last year’s implementation committee, in response, presumably, to widespread criticism of the recommendation that students make an oath-like affirmation of their compliance with the policy. “We are approaching this with trust, honesty, and transparency,” O’Dair said in an interview. “What we did not accept is any pledge or affirmation by students.”

“We are not going to take any efforts to go find students” in violation of the policy, she added. Instead, it will be enforced similarly to other misconduct issues (such as the alcohol policy), which generally prompt a disciplinary process only when violations have escalated enough to be brought to the administration. The College also won’t accept anonymous reports of policy violations. 

The policy will be added to the Handbook for Students, which means that it will have to come before the faculty for discussion and debate (prior ambiguity about whether the faculty could debate the language was a point of contention last year). 

The sanctions will affect all fellowships administered by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships: not just top fellowships like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, but also Harvard-specific programs like the Harvard-Cambridge Scholarship. Student groups affected will include official student organizations, pre-orientation programs, Phillips Brooks House Association programs, and athletic teams. The policy won’t affect members of The Harvard Crimson or the Undergraduate Council (the implementation committee had recommended these organizations be included, which Khurana did not accept because of their independent nature). 

OSL is working with some single-gender social groups, including male and female final clubs, to become gender-inclusive. Such groups are “on the path to compliance,” associate dean of student engagement Alexander Miller said, and membership in those entities will not be sanctioned. Throughout the spring and summer, OSL will develop criteria for such groups to be considered compliant with College regulations for recognized student organizations. (Last year’s implementation committee recommended, for example, that they be required to publicly list their demographic makeup). It’s still unclear what will be required, and depending on what the final plan looks like, members of a group that becomes co-ed but doesn’t want to become recognized by the College in any official capacity (for example, to avoid regulation) may still be subject to sanctions. 

“We feel very positive about the impact of this policy on campus,” O’Dair said. “Certainly there will be groups that want to continue, as is their choice, to be single-gender-focused, and all we would ask is they inform their prospective members in their recruitment of the policy.”

OSL will also create a framework for governing social groups, envisioned as a new category of recognized student organizations. “When you bring to campus social organizations that are fully around the idea of socializing, there are things that I would have to think about from where I sit that I wouldn’t have to think about with the math club,” Miller explained. “There’s a lot of liability when you throw a bunch of College students in a room to socialize.” 

Violations “will be reviewed via the College’s usual processes for addressing concerns about community standards,” the policy states. “As described in the Handbook, issues relating to social misconduct are reviewed by the Administrative Board, while concerns related to academic integrity and the Honor Code are reviewed by the Honor Council.” The expectation is that violations will be heard by the Ad Board (and not the Honor Council, which was created expressly to investigate violations of academic conduct); the dean of the College will determine the appropriate adjudicating organization if questions about jurisdiction arise. 

Although the implementation committee recommended a five-year “bridge period” to give women’s organizations extra time to transition to gender-inclusive membership, OSL has not adopted that recommendation. Instead, OSL will provide “dedicated support” to women’s organizations that want to transition to gender-inclusive membership. “[W]e welcome all organizations, and especially those whose membership is currently restricted to women, to partner with us,” the policy states. “Heidi Wickersham, Program Manager at the Harvard College Women’s Center, and staff members in the Office of Student Life will jointly partner with groups wishing to transition from having a women’s exclusive membership while maintaining a women’s-focused mission.”

Read more articles by: Marina N. Bolotnikova

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