Harvard drops policy against single-sex clubs after lawsuit

Harvard drops policy against single-sex clubs after lawsuit
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Harvard University has dropped its policy that penalized students who were members of single-sex clubs, the university president announced.

Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow released a letter Monday saying the university would stop enforcing the policy that punished students who were a part of single-sex fraternities or sororities because it could be seen as legally discriminatory based on recent court decisions.

Officials instituted the policy in 2017, which prevented students from holding leadership positions in university-recognized groups and from joining athletic teams if they were a part of single-sex clubs not recognized by Harvard.

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They were also not able to receive college-administered fellowships, including the Rhodes, Marshall and Mitchell scholarships, The Washington Post reported

The policy had affected Harvard’s traditionally male “final clubs” as well as fraternities and sororities that are not sanctioned by the university. Officials had argued these clubs were discriminatory based on sex, with the university's then-president saying Harvard could no longer “endorse selection criteria [in clubs] that reject much of the student body merely because of gender," according to the Post.

Bacow maintained in his Monday letter that the “guiding purpose behind the policy remains as important as ever.”

“The policy was adopted to advance the essential and unfinished work of making Harvard a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all our students—of creating a community in which students are not denied the opportunity to participate in aspects of undergraduate life simply because of their gender,” Bacow wrote. 

Bacow cited U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton’s refusal to drop the lawsuit filed against the university by five national or local fraternities and sororities that claimed they were being discriminated against. Gorton belonged to a fraternity while a student at Dartmouth College, the Post reported.

“It is simply irrelevant that the policy applies equally to both male and female students,” he said, according to the Post. “A policy is no less discriminatory or motivated by sex simply because it applies equally to members of both sexes.”

The university president said in his letter that the judge “accepted the plaintiffs’ legal theory that the policy, although adopted to counteract discrimination based on sex, is itself an instance of discrimination based on sex.”

The Harvard president said the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision that a 1960s federal civil rights law protected gay and transgender workers also had “significant implications” on Harvard’s policy.