Dear Harvard College Students,
In May 2016, President Faust accepted the College’s new policy on unrecognized single-gender social organizations (USGSOs) as an important step towards realizing our goals for a non-discriminatory undergraduate experience. Last fall, I convened a committee of faculty, students, and staff to make recommendations on implementing the College’s new policy. Under the leadership of co-chairs Professor Kay Shelemay and Professor Doug Melton, the committee consulted widely with the Harvard community and researched practices at our peer institutions as they considered the implementation of the policy, as well as the broader landscape of Harvard’s social environment.
The Implementation Committee’s final report provides a brief discussion of USGSOs at Harvard, data about the USGSOs collected by the committee, and comprehensive recommendations for administering the policy and enhancing undergraduate social life. The report includes recommendations for amending, strengthening, and in some instances, extending the policy’s reach beyond the fellowships and leadership roles described in the original policy. The committee has also suggested that the enforcement of the policy be modeled on the trust-based approach used for our Honor Code.
The committee’s report is thoughtful and speaks powerfully to the concerns and aspirations reflected in the policy. I am accepting nearly all of the committee’s recommendations. In two cases, however, I will be working toward the goals the recommendations seek to advance. I agree, for example, that historical inequities faced by women in College social life may require that we provide additional resources for certain organizations to transition into inclusive organizations. I will consult with the Dean of Students and the Committee on Student Life on how to best support a vigorous and non-discriminatory social experience responsive to the realities that our students, and the USGSOs themselves, are not all starting from the same place. The committee also offered several helpful recommendations for strengthening social life in the Yard and the Houses and facilitating connections between freshmen and upperclassmen. I will work with the Office of Student Life on efforts to pilot these initiatives as part of our ongoing efforts to increase support for social life.
The committee made one recommendation that warrants further deliberation. They suggested that the Undergraduate Council (UC) and the Harvard Crimson be subject to the new policy, which would mean that members of USGSOs could not be considered for leadership roles in either organization. The committee’s rationale here is clear. As they note in their report, these organizations do benefit from the Harvard name and other privileges of student organizations, and including them in the policy would underscore our commitment to a truly inclusive community and powerfully advance the policy’s goals. However, after careful reflection and consultation with colleagues, I’ve heard reasonable arguments on both sides of this issue. The Crimson and the UC are different from our other student organizations in fundamental ways. They are the primary forums through which students can hold the College accountable and, in the case of the UC, through which students can advocate for change. These important functions have long been recognized by the Faculty as deserving special consideration, as evidenced by the unique privileges extended to them. These include the ability to attend Faculty Meetings, to access Harvard’s spaces and students, and to meet regularly with College and University administrators. I plan to ask the USGSO committee that Dean Smith will appoint to consider this recommendation and further advise me on its resolution.
In their report, the committee also strongly emphasized the importance of working toward inclusion at Harvard beyond the question of gender equity. I agree with this position, and I want to challenge all student organizations to work toward this goal. As the report suggests, implementing the new policy provides us with an opportunity to create new social choices and support a new vision for a Harvard College social experience that is rooted not in exclusivity but inclusivity. No one should have to comp community. A culture that enables all students to take full advantage of the academic and social opportunities at Harvard is one that is truly worthy of the “bold and brave commitment” that our students take to be part of our community.
I want to acknowledge the many current students who shared their thoughts with the committee. Their willingness to engage on these issues was integral to the process, and I will continue to consult with student leaders and faculty members in the months ahead. In the meantime, I am grateful to Professor Shelemay and Professor Melton, along with the faculty, student, and staff members of their committee for the extraordinary effort they devoted to shaping this report. Through this work they have become powerful stewards of an inclusive and open Harvard.