Hypocrisy Thy Name Is Harvard

Update 7/13/2017 – On July 12, 2017, a Harvard University faculty committee, in a 22-page report, recommended that Harvard students be forbidden from joining fraternities, sororities, and similar organizations, including ones that include both men and women as members. The ultimate goal is to be rid of all of the organizations by May 2022. Currently, the class entering in a few weeks would be subject to the edict currently in place. If the faculty committee’s recommendations are accepted, the ban would begin with the class entering in 2018. The ultimate goal would remain the same.

The original May 13, 2016 post

Harvard University has deemed that any student in the class of 2021, the incoming crop of its freshmen, who joins a single-gender organization will be considered a pariah and will not be allowed to captain a single-sex sports team or be eligible for college endorsement for selective fellowships. Okay, the official edict did not mention the word pariah, but that seems to be the intention.

This is also not the first time that Harvard has banned Greek-letter organizations. Alpha Delta Phi was the first fraternity at Harvard when it chartered a chapter in 1837. Other fraternities followed. The fraternities were forced to close in the late 1890s/early 1900s and from the rubble of the closing of those organizations, final clubs were created.  The single-gender final clubs are one of the targets of this latest edict.

Harvard is the oldest of the Colonial Colleges which predate the establishment of the United States. It’s the same Harvard that created a coordinate institution, Radcliffe College, to educate women separately from men. Since the 1970s, Harvard has been coeducational.

This latest policy was announced by Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust, the first female to hold that position. Her undergraduate degree was obtained at Bryn Mawr, a women’s college and one of the Seven Sister colleges. Mary Maples Dunn, one of Faust’s professors at Bryn Mawr who later went on to serve as President of Smith College, was quoted in a February 12, 2007 New York Times article about Faust’s appointment as Harvard University President. In the article, Dunn said of Faust’s experience at Bryn Mawr, “I think these women’s institutions in those days tended to give these young women a very good sense of themselves and encouraged them to develop their own ideas and to express themselves confidently….It was an invaluable experience in a world in which women were second-class citizens.” 

I believe women’s fraternities/sororities also “give young women a very good sense of themselves and encourage them to develop their own ideas and to express themselves confidently.” Kappa Alpha Theta was the first National Panhellenic Conference organization to establish a chapter at Harvard, although if you look at Theta’s website, the location of its Zeta Xi Chapter is not shared; in its place is ~. Theta, along with the three other NPC groups which followed, is not recognized by the institution. In placing the chapter there, Theta seems to have given its word to never mention the institution in which the members of the Zeta Xi Chapter are enrolled. Delta Gamma’s chapter was chartered in 1994. Kappa Kappa Gamma joined them in 2003. Alpha Phi chartered a chapter in 2013 as the number of women who chose to go through recruitment warranted the establishment of another chapter. Remember, this is on a campus where the groups do not have access to any rooms and cannot put posters up about their events. The local Panhellenic is called the Cambridge-Area Panhellenic Council because the group cannot use Harvard in its name. Quota this year was 51, with chapter total at 155. These are fairly impressive numbers for a campus where the organizations are not recognized and cannot do much in the way of publicity.

I find it odd that one of the most exclusive of universities is suddenly concerned about being equitable. The class of entering freshmen, the first to be subjected to this edict, had a 5.2% acceptance rate. Of the more than 39,000 applicants, only 2,037 were admitted. And yet, Harvard is denouncing “exclusivity.” I have an idea, Harvard. Take the first 2,000 students who apply, no matter their GPAs, extracurriculars, essays, etc. Just take them as they come in. Or better yet, distribute “golden tickets” a la Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. After all, it’s the fair thing to do. I suspect that many of the 37,000 high school seniors who received the “thanks, but no thanks” letter were devastated about that decision. It’s just not fair that some students are accepted to your university and others are not. Open Harvard up to everyone; it’s the equitable thing to do.

Using campus safety as a reason to enact this edict is also disingenuous. A big elephant in the room is that alcohol and drug use/abuse tend to impair judgement. Forcing the organizations to accept members of the opposite sex, and eliminating single-gender organizations, without addressing the bigger problem of impaired judgement is not going to solve anything. When one is not sober, uncharacteristic and awful things can happen. Inhibitions are lessened and stupid decisions are sometimes made. “Work hard, party harder” is a rallying cry for many of today’s students. How about working on that problem first?

When Bettie Locke, the first female student to enroll at Indiana Asbury University, was offered a Phi Gamma Delta badge, she declined. Instead, she started an organization of her own. Four of the women in that first class of women started Kappa Alpha Theta. The fifth one started a chapter of I.C. Sorosis/Pi Beta Phi. Since 1870, Kappa Alpha Theta has provided women with the opportunity to hone leadership skills, establish life-long friendships, and to live up to the highest ideals of womanhood. These ideals are not exclusive to Kappa Alpha Theta; the other 25 NPC groups also strive for the same goals.

Delta Gamma was started in 1873 by three young students in Oxford, Mississippi, who could not get home for the Christmas holiday. Its growth to the northern states was through the efforts of a man, George Banta, a Phi Delta Theta, who is the only initiated male member of Delta Gamma. Kappa Kappa Gamma was founded in 1870 at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. Kappa, along with its Monmouth Duo partner, Pi Beta Phi, was able to withstand the closure of its Alpha Chapter when Monmouth College authorities forced the groups to disband in the late 1870s. Alpha Phi was founded in 1872 at Syracuse University. One of its early National Presidents was suffragist and social reformer Frances Willard. Women formed and nurtured these organizations and their single-sex nature is deliberate and purposeful.

While the life of today’s woman is light years away from the lives led by the founders of these NPC organizations, the tenets on which the organizations were built are as real today as they were in the late 1800s. I, for one, think Harvard needs to rethink this edict about single-gender organizations. Forcing all-male and all-female organizations to accept members of the opposite sex merely to prove a misguided point will prove no point in the end.

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© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2016. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory.

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