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Harvard University's Widener Library.

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The Harvard sorority chapter of Delta Gamma has closed in response to the university’s sanctions against single-gender social groups on its Cambridge campus.

Delta Gamma’s shuttering marks the first such single-gender social group to halt its operations in response to Harvard’s new rules, according to The Harvard Crimson, which first reported the closing.

In a statement, the national Delta Gamma sorority said that it approved a request by its Zeta Phi Cambridge (formerly Zeta Phi-Harvard) branch to close, a decision the Cambridge charter voted to do back in May 2018. The Harvard sorority chapter of Delta Gamma was established in 1994 and since then, 781 women have been initiated into Zeta Phi, per the organization.

“This decision does not mean that we are succumbing to the University’s new sanctions and policies regarding participation in unrecognized single-gender organizations like ours,” said national Delta Gamma Fraternity President Wilma Johnson Wilbanks in a statement. “We will continue to champion our right to exist on campuses everywhere. We believe the value of sorority is too great.”

 

What are the Harvard sanctions against single-gender social clubs?

Harvard University has long butted heads with its campus social groups. Though the university has not banned these groups outright, it did institute a series of sanctions penalizing group members.

In May 2016, the school announced sanctions barring members of single-gender groups — including Harvard sororities, fraternities and final clubs — from receiving campus leadership positions, captain roles on varsity teams and endorsement from the school for fellowships.

The social club sanctions went into effect with the Harvard class of 2021. In a university statement in 2016, then-Harvard President Drew Faust said that such single-gender clubs “encourage a form of self-segregation that undermines the promise offered by Harvard’s diverse student body.”

Delta Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma: Changing Harvard sorority landscape

Immediately after that announcement, Harvard sororities spoke out against the sanctions.

Delta Gamma, Alpha Phi and Kappa Alpha Theta released a statement in Dec. 2017 in which they argued that they felt female-focused spaces were crucial to the development of women on Harvard’s campus.

In January, women across the country shared their support for these Harvard sororities by tweeting with the hashtags #HearHerHarvard and #WithoutMySorority, sharing personal stories of why being in a female-focused social group was important to them.

harvard sorority delta gamma harvard social club sanctions

Delta Gamma approved the Zeta Phi Cambridge chapter’s request to close after a 60-day period in which members were encouraged to submit letters, in support of or in opposition to, the proposed closing.

In the statement, the national Delta Gamma organization since that it hopes to return to the Cambridge area should conditions for single-gender organizations improve.”

“On behalf of the Fraternity Council, I would like to thank our collegians and alumnae for the courage they have shown throughout the last several years,” Wilbanks said in her statement. “We respect the chapter’s decision and understand that the University’s sanctions resulted in an environment in which Delta Gamma could not thrive. We sincerely hope this changes in the future.”

Though Delta Gamma is the first Harvard sorority to close, others have changed in light of the sanctions. Kappa Alpha Theta recently announced that it voted to go gender-neutral in the fall, thus avoiding the sanctions against single-gender social clubs. However, this means the sorority has had to disaffiliate with its national association and becoming a new organization: Theta Zeta Xi.

This follows in the steps of another Harvard sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, which voted to become gender-neutral under the new social club name the Fleur-de-Lis back in January.