Many of my friends from high school have lovingly graced my social media feeds with #StandUpToHarvard, campaigning to end Harvard’s rules affecting those who are a part of “unrecognized single-gender social organizations (USGSOs),” commonly Greek fraternities and sororities. Beginning with the class of 2021, undergraduates in USGSOs are barred from leadership roles in major clubs and sports, and, perhaps most discouraging, will not be endorsed by the school for prominent scholarships, like the Marshall and Rhodes scholarships. Lawsuits were filed Monday against Harvard on the federal level by Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, and on the state level by Alpha Phi and the Delta Gamma Fraternity Management Corporation, an Ohio-based group that supports the Delta Gamma sorority.
Statements on the campaign’s website, standuptoharvard.org, assert that students “deserve the right to shape their own leadership and social paths, and such decisions shouldn’t be dictated to them by administrators,” and that the Harvard administration’s decision came about through suspicious and intimidating means, with vast opposition from students, faculty, parents, and many others affiliated with the Harvard. Most notable to the spread of this campaign, they claim these decisions have erased women’s spaces, forcing these social clubs to either close down or admit men. This decision, as the website claims, “disrupts the missions and expressive characteristics of the groups founded on the basis of sisterhood and designed to create environments in which women could support and empower one another” and “tells women that — for their own good — they can’t join groups without the presence of men and must submit to the control of often male administrators.”
Forming opinions on this issue is, frankly, a bit weird for me, and my views are certainly not the most informed on either the affairs of the “H-school” or of Greek life, but it is at the insistence of my social media feed that I attempt to articulate my thoughts. I was never interested in either of the aforementioned parties, which definitely influenced my decision to apply to Princeton. In the case of Greek life, however, my social media stream has been consistently filled with high school peers pledging their allegiance to a series of chapters, spending time with their newly found brothers or sisters, and occasionally promoting charitable events at their respective campuses sponsored by the club.
Earnestly, I think these groups have been an important aspect of many people’s college careers, and though I agree with decision of many universities to not endorse single-sex Greek groups, Harvard’s policy targeting students who partake in them doesn’t really seem to accomplish much when it comes to promoting equality or redefining gender norms or deconstructing conceptions of gender. Single-sex organizations are still endorsed by Harvard through sports teams and music groups, and this policy in my view only restricts students’ freedom to associate with a group because it doesn’t inherently serve the campus community at large. Sure, they host social events that are normally accessible to most students, but Harvard hosts its own social gatherings that are in a more controlled and likely more legal setting. In the administration’s eyes, these groups are liabilities that compete for the students’ attention and presence.
So, though I personally support the goals of the campaign, I find it difficult to make a statement outright supporting the campaign or the organizations, because I don’t know their role in campus life, the benefits that membership entails, and the mission of their continued operation. I see posts of my peers’ involvement, and how much they love their brothers or sisters, and their events supporting charity, and still have no idea what they are. Even eating clubs, which were for me similar organizations surrounded in mystery, have a specific and defensible purpose, despite that purpose’s being supplemented with the partying and controversy that Greek clubs provide other universities. As time progresses, so do our lovely little elite schools’ notions of gender and women’s empowerment. If they wish to remove the stereotypical image of little more than controversial Hellenistic funhouses, Greek organizations will have to do better in defining their missions and objectives to the public eye and the schools around which they operate. Simply appealing to concepts of tradition, opportunity, and brother or sisterhood in a more critical and mindful world becomes less effective each day.
Chris Leahy is a first year from Galesburg, Ill. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.