Harvard University Students Are Suing The School Over Greek Life 'Blacklist' Policies

A major lawsuit was filed by Harvard University students last week, accusing the school of blacklisting students who are members of off-campus, single-sex organizations and Harvard-specific clubs — particularly members of Greek life.

The policy, instated in 2016 by the university, allegedly punishes students in these organizations and does not allow them to be admitted to leadership roles in Harvard organizations or sports teams. The policy also reportedly bars them from obtaining post-graduate fellowships and scholarships controlled by the university.

“As a result of this policy, almost all of the once vibrant sororities and women’s final clubs open to Harvard women have either closed or had to renounce their proud status as women’s social organizations,” Renee Zainer, International President of Alpha Phi, a plaintiff organization in the state case said on the Stand Up To Harvard website. “Together, we are standing up to Harvard on behalf of all students, because they have the right to shape their own leadership and social paths. Harvard simply can’t erase the spaces students value for support and opportunity.”

Two national fraternities and two national sororities have joined the lawsuit, while another sorority has sued the school separately in Massachusetts state court.

“The common thread that ties together all of Harvard's ever-shifting justifications for the sanctions policy is sexism,” the suit says. “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,” Independent reports.

Kris M. Tilley, an attorney and business litigation specialist says the lawsuit brought on by students makes complete sense, but also believes Harvard University is just protecting themselves.

“In this new era of Me Too, universities, businesses and frankly any organization, [have] to be very careful about what goes on behind their doors,” Tilley said. “While Harvard can’t control every student and know what’s going on at all times, they can certainly be proactive about reducing any more bad publicity. And the reality is that fraternities are the ones producing the bad publicity right now.”

“While Harvard can’t control every student and know what’s going on at all times, they can certainly be proactive about reducing any more bad publicity. And the reality is that fraternities are the ones producing the bad publicity right now.”

Since the policy’s inception, at least three sororities have parted ways with the university and re-opened as organizations that accept members of any sex. The national fraternities that filed suit, Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon, say they have struggled to recruit new members and have experienced financial woes following a drop in due-paying members.

Sara Ellen Poston, a sophomore at East Carolina University and sisterhood director of her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, is worried that, with Harvard University’s prestige, their decision could potentially affect all Greek life organizations.

“I’m truly shocked that this was even an idea in someone’s head, let alone that it got this far," ” she said. "I am anxious to see how this plays out in court and I am worried for the influence Harvard University has on other schools across the country and that this could have consequences the majority doesn’t want to see."

The suit filed by Harvard University students says the school violates Title IX, the 1972 law that made it illegal for any school that receives federal funding to discriminate anyone based on gender. Tilley says using this law as their defense is the students' best hope in winning the suit.

“Title IX was monumental and it has protected the disenfranchised and held many higher ups in education accountable,” she said. “So, if and when this case reaches the courts, Title IX will do its job and protect these students.”

Members of Greek organizations all over the country have come together in response to the suit, creating a petition called Stand Up To Harvard. There are currently more than 60,000 signatures.

For college students who are not members of Greek or single-sex organizations, the urgency of this issue may not seem as alarming, but senior at California State University Brian Wood believes it should be.

“As someone who is not a member of a fraternity, I still believe in the power of these organizations and clubs,” he said. “Trust me, many of the stereotypes you hear are true, but it does not mean these students should lose their rights. If Harvard is trying to reduce the number of fraternities to reduce the number of sexual assault allegations, then Harvard should really reconsider who they are admitting.”

There is no court date set, but both suits demand a jury trial and have called on Harvard University to immediately remove this policy.