Earlier today, a coalition of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Harvard’s recently announced sanctions policy. One of the plaintiffs in the suit is Kappa Alpha Theta.
As you may remember, Harvard recently implemented a policy that punishes undergraduates for exercising their rights to join private, off-campus, single-sex organizations, including Theta. Under Harvard’s sanctions, sorority women became ineligible for scholarships and fellowships and were barred from holding leadership positions in campus organizations and on athletic teams.
You may also remember that, earlier this year, we sadly announced the closing of our Zeta Xi Chapter. Although chapter members voted unanimously to surrender their charter, it was a terribly difficult decision for women who continue to believe in the value of the single-gender experience and in our ideals of leadership, personal growth, and highest scholarship. By forcing women to make an impossible choice—between holding leadership positions and applying for scholarships and fellowships or being members of communities specifically designed to support and empower college women to have those aspirations—Harvard’s administrators placed our sisters in an untenable position.
You may now be wondering why, if we no longer have an active college chapter open to Harvard women, we remain concerned about the school’s sanctions policy. There are many reasons.
- It is women who have suffered the most under the policy’s implementation. In fact, the impact on women’s organizations has been devastating: all of Harvard’s international sororities have closed. Harvard has simply erased organizations that were created by women to support women. While Harvard’s administrators tout the decision as a response to the recommendations of a report on sexual assault prevention, penalizing young women for their involvement in a sorority actually denies them access to member-driven education and support systems shown to be effective in battling sexual assault, as well as alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and the everyday challenges of college life.
- Students deserve the right to shape their own leadership and social paths on campus, and such decisions shouldn’t be dictated to them by administrators. Harvard’s new policy forces conformity at the expense of individual and group rights and denies students who participate in these organizations the leadership experiences that would help fulfill its own mission of educating the future leaders of society.
- Harvard is interfering with students’ rights protected by the 1st Amendment, the 14th Amendment, and Title IX—a dangerous precedent by one of America’s bellwether higher education institutions. We can’t sit back and allow Harvard to establish a pattern that could be followed by others.
You may also be wondering about the cost associated with this lawsuit. Kappa Alpha Theta has committed $50,000 for three years; our partner-plaintiffs, the National Panhellenic Conference, and the North-American Interfraternity Conference have pledged similar amounts, and the Fraternity and Sorority Action Fund is also contributing to this effort. Please be assured that programming support for Thetas and Theta chapters will not be affected, nor will dues and fees.
How can you help stand up to Harvard? Share our social media posts with the hashtag #standuptoharvard and learn more at standuptoharvard.org. You may also consider contributing to The Fraternity and Sorority Action Fund (FSAF), a 501(c)(4) organization that supports and defends the rights of members of single-sex organizations, including funding Harvard-specific legal claims. Non-tax-deductible contributions may be made by checks payable to Fraternity & Sorority Action Fund, P.O. Box 3435, Alexandria, VA 22302.
Nearly 150 years ago, our founders formed Kappa Alpha Theta in the face of both tacit and overt discrimination toward women students. In founding Theta, they knew they had a chance to make a difference, to stand out, to do the right thing. It wasn’t easy, but they persevered. And now it is our turn to persevere, to help lead the fight to ensure tomorrow’s female leaders will always have a home in our single-sex chapters.
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