Harvard adds hurdle to recognition of 'final clubs'

  • Adopting gender-neutral membership policies may not be enough to protect some Harvard University final clubs, fraternities, and sororities from the school's newly-adopted sanctions on "unrecognized single-gender organizations."
  • The recently-unveiled recognition process includes a category that allows for temporary recognition of clubs that have yet to go gender-neutral, but excludes those that take direction from "any parent organization."

Harvard University has unveiled a new recognition process for single-gender social organizations, but with a wrinkle that could prevent some “final clubs” from meeting the criteria.

The new process will require student groups to meet with the university and become recognized social organizations in order to avoid sanctions on their members, which include ineligibility for scholarships and leadership positions on campus.

"The RSO must make all policy decisions without obligation to any parent organization, national chapter, or charter, and without direction, interference, or pressure from any such entity."   

“Through recognition the College is verifying a social organization’s gender-inclusivity and therefore ensuring students (of the Class of 2021 and later) who belong to RSOs have full access to leadership positions and fellowship opportunities at the College,” the school explained. 

[RELATED: Harvard adds sanctions on single-gender clubs to handbook]

Previously, many students had been under the impression that clubs only needed to become gender-inclusive to avoid sanctions, rather than needing to register with the university and go through a full recognition process, The Harvard Crimson reports.

The new process, however, stipulates that recognition is dependent upon a club exercising “local autonomy and governance,” meaning the group “must make all policy decisions without obligation to any parent organization, national chapter, or charter, and without direction, interference, or pressure from any such entity.”

According to the Crimson, that provision has the potential to prevent some final clubs from achieving recognition, including those that have already implemented gender-inclusive policies, because graduate boards have historically played a significant role in how those clubs function.

Final clubs with graduate boards that influence club proceedings, such as the Porcellian and the Fox, as well as Greek organizations with national affiliations, could be subject to sanctions even if they choose to implement gender-neutral membership policies. 

[RELATED: Harvard formally adopts sanctions on single-gender clubs]

In order to attain recognition, clubs must also participate in mandatory annual trainings on drugs and alcohol, hazing, and sexual assault. 

Additionally, clubs that are seeking the highest recognition status must also develop recruitment processes “which are both open to all students and designed to promote diversity (including gender diversity) in the group’s membership and governance.”

The three-tiered recognition system includes an “Interim Recognition” category intended to “provide groups with support during their early stages of becoming gender-inclusive,” after which the group would be required to re-register the following year for “Full Recognition” or “Recognition with Distinction.”

Notably, though, while a group is eligible for Interim Recognition even if it has not yet adopted gender-neutral membership policies, the “local governance” requirement remains in force.

The Harvard Dean of Students Office did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @emh731

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Emily Hall
Emily Hall | Massachusetts Campus Correspondent

Emily Hall is a Connecticut Campus Correspondent, and reports on liberal bias and abuse on campus for Campus Reform. Emily currently attends Yale Law School. She is a graduate of Harvard University, where she served as the president for Network of Enlightened Women, the vice-president of the Harvard College Republicans, and a Massachusetts Campus Correspondent for Campus Reform.

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