Harvard University will no longer sanction students who take part in single-gender organizations, concluding the penalties would not survive an ongoing legal challenge from fraternities and sororities.
The Ivy League school said it would no longer enforce the ban on same-sex clubs on Monday, with Harvard president Lawrence Bacow noting the university “will not be able to carry forward with the existing policy under the prevailing interpretation of federal law.” The move came just hours after a group of student organizations asked a federal judge to halt the controversial policy with an injunction, following a pair of lawsuits brought last year.
One of the plaintiffs, the international Sigma Chi Fraternity, an all-male organization, hailed the move in a tweet on Tuesday.
On Monday, June 29, Harvard University dropped its discriminatory sanctions against students who choose to join single-sex organizations after facing 18 months of litigation and pressure from Sigma Chi and other interfraternal parties. https://t.co/3OyhhO9IcX pic.twitter.com/6yWAL3Q3pz
— Sigma Chi Fraternity (@SigmaChi) June 30, 2020
Harvard initially imposed penalties on students who joined “unrecognized single-sex social organizations” in 2016, barring them from holding leadership positions in other student groups and athletic teams, while also denying them college administered fellowships. The policy came on the heels of an internal report finding links to sexual assault and “deeply misogynistic attitudes” among all-male clubs, resolving to do away with them entirely.
Though the school also maintains that all single-gender groups are discriminatory, the plaintiffs on the suit have countered that the ban itself involved gender-based rules, arguing the policy “explicitly turns on the sex of both the student and those with whom the student associates.”
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In December 2017, Harvard modified the rule to allow female students to remain in single-sex groups for a “grace period” of five years, but nonetheless reaffirmed the ban on all-male organizations. Though the school urged the female groups to move toward more inclusion, the policy change created a clear gender-based distinction.
Following the decision, Harvard suggested that its axing of the penalties should halt the student lawsuit, arguing that it was not entitled to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees, however lawyers for the frats and sororities told Reuters on Tuesday that the suit would continue regardless, seeking a ruling on the now-defunct rules.
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