Harvard University’s efforts to crack down on single-gender social clubs and do away with their “boy’s club” reputation associated with its final clubs have, ironically, resulted in a lawsuit alleging discrimination against women.
Four sororities and two fraternities have filed lawsuits against the university claiming that Harvard uses threats and intimidation to dissuade students from joining single-gender clubs, according to The Boston Globe.
It’s not wrong for Harvard to recognize a problem with sexual assault in its elite, male-only “final clubs.” Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted in final clubs than anywhere else on campus, excluding dorms, according to a report from the university. Either forcing these groups to accept women or discouraging men from joining them may help combat this culture of entitlement.
But Harvard’s single-gender club crackdown should be limited to these final clubs. The wrong groups are falling victim to Harvard’s efforts, righteous as they may be. The school’s issue lies in the culture of sexual assault that permeates groups of privileged men, and sororities — which aren’t responsible for this culture — shouldn’t be collateral damage.
In failing to targeting final clubs specifically, Harvard is trying to avoid owning up to its own responsibility in the culture it has helped create. It’s not normal for colleges to have final clubs, and it looks like the school doesn’t want to admit its wrongdoing in allowing these clubs to become part of its culture in the first place.
The school can’t be blamed for trying to create policies that make things more equitable for all students, but maybe Harvard needs to learn that “the same” isn’t always “equal.” Targeting all single-gender clubs with across-the-board policies isn’t the answer to addressing problems that lie within one segment of these clubs.
It seems the school is trying to be equitable but is inadvertently punishing every other single-gender group, which could especially hurt the university’s all-female groups. In doing so, in this context, they’re punishing the very victims of the problem rather than fixing the problem itself.
Efforts to do away with final clubs aren’t enough to actively combat sexual assault. Even if final clubs were permanently disbanded, being in such a club is not what enables someone to commit sexual assault. The setting can be recreated and found in many other places.
The idea of limiting any institution to one gender has been fading out of popularity. The Boy Scouts of America recently announced they’re changing their name to the “Scouts of America,” one-upping the Girl Scouts by welcoming all genders.
While some may say female-exclusive clubs and institutions are no longer relevant or necessary, the truth is that women are still disadvantaged in some ways while attending the same universities and participating in the same clubs as men. Allowing women to establish their own spaces can, at times, provide them a respite from these disadvantages.
Coercing students away from participating in activities where they feel comfortable, as long as they aren’t harming others, should be the very opposite of what the school’s administration is supposed to do.
It’s a tough thing for Harvard to do away with these clubs. They’re ingrained in the school’s identity, and they exist largely underground. It’s unlikely that any school regulations will ever make them cease to exist entirely.
Any regulations Harvard comes up with are more likely to impact campus groups that have been created to increase involvement and empower women. Sororities provide a space for women to create a community among themselves and pursue leadership opportunities — a protective bubble, in a sense, from the a culture of privilege where sexual assault can get by under the radar.
Efforts to end all single-gender clubs are hurting these organizations that could be helping to promote a counterculture against final clubs.