In February 2016, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences reaffirmed the University’s “long-held and oft expressed view” that student body diversity is essential to Harvard College’s pedagogical objectives and institutional mission. That report recognized that we take intentional steps not only in the classroom but also through attention to the structures and institutions in which our students spend their time at Harvard. “We want our students to engage with each other not only in their classes but where they eat, play, dance, sing, act, debate, write, throw, catch, relax, and, of course, study. We seek to achieve this goal through very deliberate choices in the way in the College is structured.”
The College adopted, in May 2016, a new policy regarding unrecognized single-gender social organizations (USGSO) with the explicit goal of ending the gender segregation and discrimination of these organizations in a manner that is consistent with our educational mission, non-discrimination principles, and applicable law. For more than 30 years – since Harvard withdrew recognition from the male Final Clubs out of a belief that students should not be excluded from structured campus activities and organizations solely on the basis of their gender -- the USGSOs have grown to be an outsized part of student social life. As reflected in survey comments, these organizations directly and negatively influence the undergraduate experience for many students who are not themselves members of these organizations. The discriminatory practices of these organizations undermine our educational mission and the principles espoused by this Faculty and distance their members from their College experience.
Today, the importance of inclusion and belonging, of nondiscrimination and acceptance, and of respect and tolerance for others cannot be gainsaid. The work of this committee – and ensuring that our students have non-discriminatory access to social opportunities that help define a Harvard College experience – is an integral part of our ongoing efforts to prepare our students to join in the fellowship of educated people and be leaders and examples for this world. The current USGSO policy addresses the complex issues that surround these organizations and the challenges they have posed for decades to our efforts to provide an inclusive and safe intellectual and social environment for our students. Further input from the faculty may strengthen our commitment to this approach or may yet uncover other approaches that are equally or even more effective at achieving our stated objectives. With these considerations in mind, I charge the USGSO committee as follows:
- To familiarize itself with the current USGSO policy, its accepted implementation, and all available data relating to unrecognized single-gender social organizations. This will include but is not limited to the report of the Implementation Committee, the Task Force on Sexual Assault, Visiting Committee and Overseers reports, student survey responses, and information from other colleges and universities about their experiences with similar types of organizations;
- To consider whether there are other means of achieving our stated goals, including and especially that of fully advancing the non-discrimination objectives reflected in the current policy, and to evaluate whether any would be more effective than our current policy.
- To propose, should more effective means be identified, changes or expansions to the current policy or a new approach.
In developing its recommendations, the committee will consult as appropriate with the broader Harvard community, including members of the FAS faculty and students, on issues relating to student social life, inclusion, and belonging. The committee is asked to complete its work by the end of this semester and to present its public report and recommendations to me in the early fall of 2017. Any recommended change to our current policy must be approved by the President of the University.