Students on campuses across the country can celebrate a victory as their rights were affirmed with the successful conclusion of a pair of lawsuits filed by sororities, fraternities and individual students challenging a Harvard sanctions policy that punished students who belong to off-campus, single-sex social organizations.
“The disregard of students’ basic freedoms and the destruction of the women’s groups was indefensible,” R. Stanton Jones of Arnold & Porter said on behalf of the federal plaintiffs after the December 2018 filing. “With the defeat of its sanctions policy, Harvard should stay out of the business of trying to dictate who students spend their time with off campus.”
This summer, Harvard acknowledged legal precedent was not on its side and dropped its discriminatory sanctions policy. The announcement from the university is nothing short of an admission that their policy was misguided and openly discriminatory based on sex.
“While we believe the discriminatory nature of Harvard’s policy was apparent long ago, we are nonetheless gratified to see that Harvard will no longer seek to enforce such an unlawful policy,” said Dani Weatherford, CEO of the National Panhellenic Conference, and Judson Horras, CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference, in a joint statement. “Our focus has always been on the freedom of association rights of students and on the particularly acute harm that this policy has done to women’s-only organizations on Harvard’s campus.
“While we are pleased that this policy will no longer hang over Harvard students, we are also painfully aware that its effects will linger – particularly for women’s-only organizations that were decimated by this policy,” said Weatherford and Horras.
Following Harvard’s rescission of the sanctions policy, the parties reached settlements in the federal and state court lawsuits challenging the policy. Plaintiffs and nearly 100 supporting single-sex organizations believe this win should serve as a stark reminder to Harvard and other universities—students are free to associate with other students without regard to their gender and targeting single-sex student organizations is illegal and wrong.