The Harvard War on Greek Life: A Sorority Member's Take

Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana recently made the decision to level sanctions upon many of the students he oversees. He has created a policy that starting with the class of 2021, members of unrecognized single-gender social groups such as the Sabliere Society, the Fly Club, finals clubs, and Greek organizations on the Harvard campus will be barred from holding leadership positions in other other college clubs, student government, or athletics teams. They also will not be able to receive Harvard’s endorsement for prestigious fellowships.

Since the dean’s statement several Greek umbrella organizations have released statements disputing this decision. The organizations agreed with the sentiment that Harvard should, “create a safe and equitable environment for their students” however they argue that the dean is going about this goal in the wrong way. A joint statement by Dani Weatherford, the executive director of the National Panhellenic Conference, Judson Horras, the president and CEO of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, Francisco Lugo, the commissioner of member services for the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations, and Mark Koepsell, the executive director and CEO of the association of fraternity and sorority advisors reads, “Not only does it [this decision] deny students the basic right of free association, it penalizes them for involvement in fraternities and sororities — experiences that foster leadership, personal growth and the very sense of engagement college is designed to create.” Additional concerns have been raised by the NPC since as members try to wrap their heads around the idea that Harvard is trying to address and stop sexual assault by punishing women for being a part of single-gender organizations that can provide a support system for them in these instances. Lugo, the representative of NALFO also brought up the concern that, “if Harvard is seeking to make campus more inclusive and equitable, removing opportunities for these students goes directly against that goal. [which is what will occur if this sanction is made final]”. Many of these umbrella organizations seemed to support the overall statement that Greek life and other single-gender organizations can provide a positive and fulfilling experience for college students. There are a wide variety of groups and so changes should be made internally to improve upon these groups and the issues surrounding them instead of barring students from entering them.

 

 

As a member of local sorority Chi Theta Phi here at Oregon State University, I strongly disagree with the Harvard dean’s decision. I have been asked in the past why we don’t allow men into my own organization and the answer is quite simple: we were started as a sisterhood and plan to continue as one. We provide a place for women to feel empowered, hold leadership positions, and form friendships. Many other sports teams only accept those of one gender as well but are often not criticized for it. My largest dispute against this dean is that I don’t even know if he has ever truly experienced what it is like to be a part of Greek life. As cheesy as it sounds, you don’t really know how valuable the experience is until you are a part of it. Until you are greeted by strangers cheering you into a room to accept your bid who become your best friends, until you stay up until 2 am to raise money for a good cause, until you comfort a sister over a heartbreak or loss, or until you are elected into a position where your sisters believe in you enough to let you hold, you don’t know. My experience in Greek life has been so much more than just parties or t-shirts. It has made me a better friend, student, professional, and sister. I am so proud to be a part of an organization that I will be able to support for the rest of my life in every way I can. I believe in what my organization has accomplished that much which is truly amazing to say. I wouldn’t give up my experience for anything even in the most difficult moments because I know those tough discussions or disputes were just bumps along the road of our sorority’s growth as an organization.

With the rise of organizations like Gamma Rho Lambda or Delta Lambda Phi, specifically geared towards those in the LGBT community, and the growth of multicultural organizations nationwide, I find it hard to believe that this dean’s decision is a push for inclusivity and diversity. It seems to me this dean is not willing to make the changes necessary to fix a potentially flawed system and so is trying to shut it down completely. I think this will simply make these organizations more dangerous as they become more secretive and move underground. More issues could arise from this decision then the potential benefits in my eyes. I do not see how robbing students of experiencing life outside of studying will really help this dean accomplish what he would like to either. I feel as if he is trying to accomplish these goals but instead of looking at the students he oversees and the systems that are currently in place to support them he is only seeing the potential liabilities.

Furthermore, I think the decision to essentially force single-gender organizations to accept men or women as it may apply is an idea that has not been thought out. Single-gender organizations like Greek organizations have been around for decades and they have thrived because they are exclusive, but in a way that once you are in you have earned it and your brothers or sisters share your values. If organizations previously formed as brotherhoods or sisterhoods are forced to change, what will be their new shared purpose? Will the members of these organizations feel comfortable accepting others? These are questions I would truly like to know if this dean has considered. I also wonder whether the dean has a personal vendetta against these groups. As lawsuits by some of these single-gender organizations against this decision start to be raised I will be following along to see how this is handled. I am proud to be at a campus that values Greek life and recognizes that we have power within our campus community. The fact that Harvard seeks to extinguish this fire among Greek leaders and organization presidents is despicable and self-serving. Though fixing the problems within their social organizations would not be easy it is not a problem they should simply avoid by discouraging membership in these groups. That’s a coward’s way out and I would hope that nation-wide campus presidents are seeing this decision and seeing the inherent flaws within it. I hope they are thinking of students in Greek life who they know have raised money for causes, worked hard as students, and been positive representatives of their organizations and knowing that they wouldn’t want to shut down the organization that has helped them to grow in such a way.

 

“From the outside looking in, you can never understand it. From the inside looking out, you can never explain it.”

---Unknown

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