A coalition of sororities, fraternities and students at Harvard University has sued the college over its 2016 rule discouraging students from joining single-gender social clubs.
Two fraternities (Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon) and sororities (Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma) filed a lawsuit in Boston’s federal court. Another national sorority, Alpha Phi, also sued the school in Massachusetts state court. Both suits are being supported by the National Panhellenic Conference and ask the courts to force the university to rescind the policy.
According to the movement’s official site — standuptoharvard.org — the lawsuits challenge “a Harvard sanctions policy that punishes students who join off-campus, single-sex social organizations” and “describe how Harvard used a campaign of threats and intimidation to scare students into abandoning their fundamental rights to free association and to live free of sex discrimination” as guaranteed by Title IX and the United States Constitution.
While single-sex groups aren’t technically banned at Harvard, “students who join them are barred from leading campus groups or becoming captains of sports teams,” according to the Associated Press. Individuals in such groups are also refused endorsements for prestigious fellowships, such as the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.
“As a result of this policy, almost all of the once vibrant sororities and women’s final clubs open to Harvard women have either closed or had to renounce their proud status as women’s social organizations,” said Renee Zainer, International President of Alpha Phi, a plaintiff organization in the state case. “Together, we are standing up to Harvard on behalf of all students, because they have the right to shape their own leadership and social paths. Harvard simply can’t erase the spaces students value for support and opportunity.”
The 2016 rule was cemented in order to “curb secretive all-male groups” or “final clubs” following reports of the clubs exuding “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and problems with sexual assaults, AP reported.
But the lawsuits argue the rule is rooted in stereotypes about men and women and violates the 1972 law known as Title IX, which bans sex-based discrimination in schools receiving federal funding.
Additionally, plaintiffs say Harvard “doesn’t place other limits on the types of groups students can join” and it’s possible students could “join the American Nazi Parts, or could create an off-campus undergraduate chapter of the Ku Klux Klan” without violating any school policies.
The state suit filed by the national Alpha Phi sorority, its local chapter and the Delta Gamma Fraternity Management Corporation, also argues the rule violates state civil rights laws.
Both the state and federal suits demand a jury trial. Harvard officials have not yet responded to comment about the lawsuits.