Dear Harvard College Students,
I’m writing to let you know that based on faculty discussion about the new Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organization (USGSO) policy, I have recommended to Dean Smith that he establish a faculty committee to consider whether the policy can be improved, either by changing aspects of its existing structure or through some broader revision. He has accepted that recommendation, which I describe in more detail below. The College’s current USGSO policy will remain in effect, unless and until it is revised or replaced.
The College is deeply committed to creating an inclusive environment where all of our students feel they belong. We will continue unabated our work to ensure that every student can engage in all that Harvard College has to offer. I look forward to supporting the new committee in their important work and to continuing our work together.
Over the past several months, the Faculty has engaged in important and thoughtful conversations about the significant impact unrecognized single gender social organizations (USGSOs) are having on undergraduate student life. Although the discussion has been focused on the merits of the new USGSO policy, it has also generated a much broader awareness among faculty members of the role of the USGSOs on campus and the reasons we thought it important to act.
We take seriously the call from members of the Faculty to have further input into how the University should best solve the problems presented by the USGSOs. After discussions with the Faculty Council, many individual faculty members, and senior University administrators, I have recommended to Dean Smith that he establish a faculty committee to assess whether the USGSO policy can be improved, either by changing aspects of its existing structure or through some broader revision. Dean Smith has accepted my recommendation and will appoint a faculty-led committee that includes Faculty and House Deans, Faculty Council members, members of the Educational Policy Committee, members of the Administrative Board, and additional “at-large” faculty members, students, and staff. The committee’s work will be guided by the overarching principle that our students should have open and non-discriminatory access to social opportunities that shape and define the undergraduate experience. The Committee will make recommendations to Dean Smith, and President Faust will provide the final approval for the policy.
In their deliberations, this new committee will review data that have been compiled by the College and the University on the USGSOs over the past three decades, including Visiting Committee and Overseers reports, survey data, and findings from other colleges and universities, as well as data collected by the University Task Force on Sexual Assault. The committee will also consult with members of faculty-student committees, including the current USGSO Implementation Committee, on issues related to student social life and belonging and inclusion. It will also welcome input from faculty members. With this broad foundation to build on, Dean Smith hopes that the committee will be able to complete its work by the end of this semester and present its recommendations in the early fall of 2017. The Faculty Council will be kept closely apprised of the committee’s work. We will also ensure that the Faculty has the opportunity to comment on the committee’s report before any recommendations are conveyed to President Faust.
Given the problematic impact the USGSOs have on undergraduate life, it would not be ethically or administratively responsible to pause our efforts to solve these problems. With that in mind, the current policy will remain in effect, unless and until revised or replaced. The policy does not affect any current student and will only apply to next year’s incoming class (who themselves will not have to decide whether to join USGSOs until the spring semester). Therefore, there will be ample time to consider the new committee’s recommendations before any students are directly affected by the policy.
Faculty engagement is both welcome and necessary to any meaningful effort to create an inclusive social environment at Harvard College. I’ve been heartened to see so many members of our community taking part in the discussions about the USGSO policy, and very much hope that this engagement will continue with the new committee. At the same time, I recognize that while we all share the goal of fostering a non-discriminatory Harvard experience, we may have differing views on the best way to achieve this goal. I also recognize that the term non-discrimination is a necessary but insufficient description of what we are trying to nurture at Harvard, a community built on respect, dignity, and aspirations that are far greater than the sum of the achievements of our individual members.
I look forward to supporting the new committee in their deliberations. In the meantime, I want to take this opportunity to thank the faculty, students, and staff who have immersed themselves in these issues as part of the Implementation Committee. Their recommendations will provide needed guidance in the immediate term and inform the work to come.