Sororities and fraternities sue Harvard over single-sex organization policy

A group of fraternities and sororities is suing Harvard University over a campus policy discouraging private, single-sex organizations.

There were two separate suits lodged Monday, one in Boston's federal court and one in Massachusetts court. The federal case is lead by two international sororities, two international fraternities, a Cambridge fraternity chapter and three current Harvard students. The state case was brought by three women's organizations.

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The lawsuits call for an injunction to halt Harvard's policy that punishes members of single-sex organizations on the basis that it violates rights to free association given by the Constitution and equal treatment based on sex from Title IX.

“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. Zainer provided the statement to the activist coalition group Stand Up to Harvard

“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.”

A Harvard spokeswoman told The Hill that the university’s policy is designed to help foster inclusive institutions. 

“Harvard College seeks to build a community in which every student can thrive, and it does so on a foundation of shared values, including belonging, inclusion, and non-discrimination,” Rachael Dane said.

“The policy on Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations (USGSO) is designed to dedicate resources to those organizations that are advancing principles of inclusivity, while offering them supportive pathways as they transform into organizations that align with the educational philosophy, mission, and values of the College.”

The rule being challenged was established in 2016 to discourage students from joining single-gender social clubs.

Harvard students who join single-gender clubs are barred from leading campus groups or becoming captains of sports teams and will not be endorsed for prestigious fellowships.

The rule was created to rein in all-male "finals clubs," which Harvard accused in 2016 of having “deeply misogynistic attitudes” and contributing to sexual assault issues on campus, according to The Associated Press.

—Updated at 5:03 p.m.