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Social Clubs Must File Gender Breakdown

5.10.18

Detail of the entryway of the A.D. Club, a male final club

Photograph by Daderot/Wikipedia


Detail of the entryway of the A.D. Club, a male final club

Photograph by Daderot/Wikipedia

To be recognized officially by the College, and avoid becoming a target of its new policy that sanctions members of unrecognized single-gender social organizations (USGSOs), final clubs and other social groups will have to file a gender breakdown of their membership with the College, among other steps. Dean of students Katie O’Dair, whose office is tasked with enforcing the policy, announced the new process in an email to undergraduates this afternoon. 

Harvard policy now prohibits students who have belonged to single-gender social organizations (including final clubs and Greek organizations) within the previous year from receiving the required College endorsement for certain fellowships, or holding leadership positions in recognized student organizations or athletic teams. (The policy applies to current freshmen, who matriculated this past fall, and subsequent classes.)  The Harvard Corporation voted to retain the sanctions in December, after a year and a half of intense debate across the campus community that raised concerns about gender equality, students’ freedom of association, and faculty governance of the College.

The Office of Student Life (OSL, which becomes part of the Dean of Students Office [DSO] in July) laid out its plan for applying the sanctions policy to individual students this past March: undergraduates will not have to make affirmative statements that they don’t belong to a USGSO, and the College will not accept anonymous reports of policy violations or actively seek out students in violation of the policy. Today’s announcement unveils a procedure to accommodate previously unrecognized social clubs by creating a new category, Recognized Student Organizations (RSOs).

To become an RSO with “interim” recognition, which will be available for one academic year, final clubs will need to submit materials showing:  

  • information about the gender breakdown of their membership, which does not need to include information that could identify individual members; 
  • documents that “publicly affirm a commitment to gender-inclusive membership and recruitment policies”; 
  • the appointment of an official who will be a liaison between the group and the College; 
  • local autonomy and governance, meaning that the club makes its own policy decisions without control by a parent organization or other entity; and 
  • certain required trainings for its board members, including sexual-assault prevention and anti-hazing trainings. 

Groups won’t have to achieve any quota or specific gender breakdown in order to be recognized. “While we are not requiring 50-50 splits or anything like that, we hope that organizations are actively seeking members among all genders,” associate dean of student engagement Alex Miller, who will lead the implementation of the policy, said in an interview. 

To receive full recognition after the one-year interim period, RSOs will also need to provide their recruitment schedules to the DSO, and to offer all their members training in “anti-hazing awareness, sexual assault prevention, and harm-reduction strategies around drugs and alcohol as well as safe and responsible hosting practices.” Groups with full recognition will be able to reserve College spaces for events and recruitment, and receive DSO support for programming in areas like leadership development and event planning. 

A third tier, “recognition with distinction,” will be reserved for organizations that “will be noted on the DSO website as having achieved a standard of excellence.” Groups in this tier must have “recruitment processes which are both open to all students and designed to promote diversity (including gender diversity) in the group’s membership and governance.” RSOs with distinction will be eligible for additional grants and leadership awards from the DSO. “The money won’t be substantive,” Miller said, but “it certainly will help groups broaden their reach to a more diverse, inclusive membership.”

The DSO will also provide a forum in which RSO leaders can discuss developing an inclusive membership. This leadership council will participate in the DSO’s assessment of the recognition process in 2018-2019.

 

USGSOs will be able to submit their documentation between June 15 and August 15, and will have to meet with the DSO at the beginning of the fall semester to discuss their plans to become gender-inclusive. The review process will involve an examination of all club governing documents, including the structure of its graduate board—a group of alumni with the power to make decisions about club policies and membership. The DSO’s requirement that clubs be locally governed may not mesh with some final clubs’ graduate-board structures. “There are specific groups where that is the case, and I imagine for those organizations in particular, local autonomy will be an area of concern for them if they’re considering recognition,” Miller said. (Because fraternities and sororities are generally governed by national parent organizations, they may not be eligible for recognition at all.)

Dean O’Dair praised the way Miller and his team have developed the new process as “a way of rebuilding the trust that has been strained during these discussions.” Miller has been meeting for the last two months with leaders of USGSOs who wish to pursue recognition, and said “five to eight” groups have “expressed broad interest about this recognition pathway.” 

“We are two years to the date, probably, from when the original announcement [of the sanctions policy] was made,” he added, “and the fact that we were able to move from student unrest, as I have read it, to a place where students are genuinely excited about being recognized—I think that’s amazing.” 

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