Harvard University's Widener Library. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Harvard has long debated cracking down on its single-gender social clubs, and university officials recently announced that by the start of next semester, the college will finalize a plan to penalize members of such organizations.

 

Though the school has stepped back from its suggestion to completely ban fraternities, sororities and other social clubs, the news about upcoming penalties has still upset some groups.

 

Despite the threat of penalties, three sororities at Harvard said in a statement on Tuesday that they will still host their recruitment processes for all freshman women next semester.

 

“This is the spirit in which Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, and Kappa Alpha Theta were established during the early 1870s,” the sororities said in their joint statement, titled, “We Believe Women Should Make Their Own Choices.”

 

There already are penalties for being involved in these single-gender clubs. Harvard announced in May 2016 that members of such clubs would be barred from leadership positions and certain fellowships at the school. That went into effect with freshman this year.

The three sororities acknowledged that their statement to include freshman women as members and in the recruitment process next semester violates the current sanctions in place, but they argue that female-focused spaces are important to the development of women on campus.

“These sanctions have been touted as a response to the recommendations of a report on sexual assault prevention,” the statement reads. “Yet penalizing our future members for their involvement in a sorority in reality denies them access to member-driven education and support systems shown to be effective in battling sexual assault, as well as alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and the particular challenges inherent in college life.”

“Further,” it continues, “while Harvard’s sanctions claim to support women’s right to make their own decisions, these sanctions actually force women to choose between the opportunity to have supportive, empowering women-only spaces and external leadership opportunities.”

Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana told the Harvard Crimson last week that the single-gender club penalties will be announced at the start of the spring semester, which the Crimson notes is also when sorority recruitment begins. Only one Harvard sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, was not part of the statement, the Crimson pointed out.