Earlier this year, Harvard instituted some very well-meaning but misguided sanctions of students who participate in single-gender social organizations. The sanctions have been marketed as promoting inclusivity, which is a pretty-sounding word. Who is against inclusivity, after all? But the way they achieve it is by coercion and restriction of thought and association. Harvard plans to discriminate against students based on who they choose to hang out with. Discrimination is not inclusion.
This policy reminds me of a joke about post-Nazi Germany. It goes something like this. After the War, Germany was trying to heal. As a matter of unifying its citizenry, there was a great campaign to encourage tolerance among the varying and fractured subpopulations within the country. Government officials went around explaining town-to-town, “You must be tolerant. If you are not tolerant, we will compel you to be tolerant.” End joke.
These sanctions are a thinly-veiled attempt to undermine final clubs. Before I go on, let me very clear: I was not a member of any final club as a student. I am not currently affiliated with a final club. I have several close friends and former students who were sexually assaulted at final clubs. And I do not support final clubs as an institution. And I cannot believe that the administration is making me defend their existence. In fact, I’m angry about it.
But I want to know, what problem are the sanctions a solution to? The administration has already said that it plans to apply the sanctions inconsistently. According to the Crimson:
According to an email from the Seneca’s undergraduate officers to Seneca members obtained by The Crimson, Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich assured the Seneca at a May meeting that if the group removed gender requirements from its charter and bylaws, the club “could continue to operate as it always has.”
Although the Seneca will continue to only invite women to their first recruitment event of the semester, men will be allowed to attend the event without an invitation and participate in the subsequent parts of the selection process should they wish, said undergraduate co-president president Avni Nahar ’17 in an interview.
“Like Women in Business or Latinas Unidas, although men may apply, our membership can be made up wholly of women without incurring the sanctions of the administration’s new policy,” Nahar and co-president Fran F. Swanson ’17 wrote in the email, according to a copy obtained by The Crimson.
So the sanctions cannot be about combating elitism or exclusivity. So what does the administration intend by these sanctions? Just to use large, centralized power to punish people they disagree with. When I was a student at Harvard, I learned not to take away freedom of thought and association simply because I don’t like someone or who they hang out with, no matter how reprehensible I find them. Harvard should not discriminate on the basis of the organization students choose to join. Harvard’s new and bizarre brand of inclusion is based on suppressing and removing the parts it doesn’t find convenient. It is not, in a word, inclusive. And these sanctions do nothing to address the very real and very grave issue of sexual violence on campus.
As a resident tutor in Quincy House, I learned the all too grim reality that sexual violence is not confined to final clubs. It happens everywhere, including in the Houses. Sexual violence transcends group and team affiliation, race, gender, age, position, religion, or creed. Sexual violence is a rank and insidious social ill that plagues our campus. Instead of curtailing freedom of association on campus, I wish the faculty would draft courageous and targeted policies that address the real problem: sexual violence.
Fortunately, there is a motion to protect students’ right to free association on campus before the faculty right now. Members of the Faculty of Arts and Science will vote next Tuesday, December 6, on the motion. I have written to faculty I know to urge them to support the motion.
Here is a letter I sent to Howard Georgi, the Residential Faculty Dean (formerly called House Master) at Leverett House:
Since the election, I’ve rededicated myself to the people, institutions, and values that are important to me. Because Harvard is important to me, I’m writing to ask you to vote in favor of the motion before the faculty next week to protect students’ freedom of association. Harvard should not discriminate on the basis of group affiliation.
First, I want you to know that I was not in a final club as an undergraduate. And I have close friends who were sexually assaulted in final clubs during my time at the College. I do not support final clubs as an institution.
But I also have friends and former students who were sexually assaulted on campus in the Houses. Sexual violence at Harvard is a very real and grave problem. And I am in favor of policies that will protect students from sexual assault.
The sanctions against the final clubs are well-meaning, but an answer to a different question. It does not tackle the challenging and important problem of sexual assault on campus. Instead, the sanctions have been marketed as a way of embracing inclusivity. But it is an inclusivity by coercion and restriction of association and thoughts, which is no inclusivity at all. I do not want to punish people simply because they hang out with people I do not know or necessarily like. That’s not what the Core education taught me.
I hope you will help the administration abandon the current sanctions and draft new policies that tackle the problem directly: sexual violence on campus.
Will you support the motion next week?
Thanks for your time and your support of the House system.
All the best,
If you know someone on the Faculty, please send them a similar note to support the motion to protect students’ freedom of association.
I really cannot believe President Faust and Dean Khurana are making me defend final clubs. Really. Sheesh.