Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Harvard University Women's Organizations

Harvard University Women's Organizations

For background, see this article: Harvard Cracks Down on All-Male Clubs. But It’s Women’s Groups That Have Vanished, by Sarah Brown. 

Women at Harvard protested the administration's effort to discourage
membership on gender-exclusive student groups.

Here are the first few paragraphs from Brown's article: 

Just over a year ago, Harvard University's leaders made an announcement that they hoped would be the final word, for the time being, in a lengthy debate over the future of campus social life.

Starting with the freshman class in 2017, any student who joined a single-gender social group — like one of the university's exclusive final clubs, or a fraternity or sorority — would face restrictions. Members wouldn't be able to hold leadership positions on campus, serve as captains of athletic teams, or receive Harvard's endorsement for postgraduate scholarships like the Rhodes and the Marshall. The groups could avoid the sanctions only if they went coed.

Technically, the policy had been unveiled in May 2016. But after 18 months of contentious conversations, Harvard's governing board finally voted to approve the restrictions. The board's action would, in theory, institute the policy beyond the tenure of Drew Gilpin Faust, the president at the time, who stepped down this summer.

To some observers, the demise of exclusionary social groups on college campuses makes a lot of sense. As student populations diversify, administrators are growing more aware of the need to foster inclusive environments, not ones segregated by gender and class. At Harvard, the men's final clubs in particular seem like vestiges of a university from an earlier era, when the student body was whiter and wealthier than it is today.

So on the surface, it would be easy to dismiss the lawsuits filed against Harvard by Greek organizations last month as a last-gasp effort. Privileged people are digging in their heels in the face of threats to their privilege, the argument goes. The suits are accompanied by a national campaign and petition, with an extensive website that purports to tell "the Truth" about single-gender social organizations. Some sorority chapters at other colleges have encouraged members and alumni to sign on.

But the sorority members who have become the loudest voice in favor of the lawsuits argue that their fight isn't about protecting privilege at all. It's about protecting women.

Harvard officials have said their crackdown on social groups was designed to do just that. In their view, all-male final clubs encourage misogynistic behaviors and create problematic environments for women. The solution? To discourage the behavior at the source.

Since the university couldn't singlehandedly eliminate private, unrecognized, off-campus organizations, administrators put in place the strongest disincentives to joining that they could come up with — and that would, they hoped, pass legal muster.

The women, on the other hand, say that the administration's approach to halting gender discrimination has endangered gender-exclusive spaces that weren't part of the problem. In fact, those women say, such groups remain necessary on a campus where issues like sexual misconduct persist.

Since the policy took effect, it's the sororities and women's final clubs that have disappeared, while most of the men-only groups continue to operate. This fall, all four of Harvard's sororities shut down. One recently reopened, but with a small fraction of its former membership. The six female-only final clubs have all started the process of going coed. (EMPHASIS ADDED)

This is a phenomenon often seen with regard to women's space. When push comes to shove, liberal feminist efforts to allow women into centers of male power will be countered by a male backlash of the same. The end result: nodules of men's spatial power remains, while any remnant of female space, no matter how apparently innocuous (like a sorority) will be destroyed. 

Here are additional points brought out in the article that are worthy of note: 

* "The current social scene at the College revolves around deeply entrenched systems of power," reads the February 2017 report of a committee convened to figure out how to carry out the policy. "Men's final clubs in particular can leverage the historical dominance of gender, class, and race to preserve that power."

No kidding. And notice that efforts to help support the women within this unequal playing field were cancelled:

One committee suggested that Harvard have a five-year "bridge" period for women's groups, during which they could continue to "operate with gender-focused missions" and make the transition to an arrangement in which they were recognized by the university and yet "entirely unconnected from the typical Greek system." But last March, administrators canceled the "bridge" program.

Of course. Not surprised. 
Then we have the "you girls have to suck it up because that's the only way to achieve our feminist goals" argument. Never mind that the boys aren't sacrificing much of anything, while the women are asked to give up everything. 

* A November 2017 statement signed by 23 female students said Harvard's premise "has been that women must not be allowed to join groups without men — for their own good — because it is the only way to 'get at' men's final clubs." Women's protests of the policy, they wrote, "have been met with the response that women groups are unfortunate collateral damage for a more noble cause — this cause of protecting them. This is egregious."

And then the result. We kill off women's groups, a few men's institutions go coed, and the rest of the men's organizations thrive. Because they are men, and they don't have to obey any rules made by freaking liberals or feminists. Right?

* In the spring, interest in sorority recruitment dropped by 60 percent, according to the Crimson. By August, the newspaper reported, there were no longer any women-only social organizations. One, Alpha Phi, has since reopened; the sorority is part of one of the lawsuits against Harvard. The chapter's membership peaked at 160 women in 2017, according to the suit. Now there are eleven women who "have rejoined or expressed interest in rejoining." Four men-only groups have gone coed over the last couple of years. But nine others, mostly final clubs, continue to operate.

At least some sort of get it, though they kind of tip toe around the central issues. 

Why was the impact on women's groups so much greater? Women's groups weren't as well established in Cambridge, said Emma Quinn-Judge, a Boston lawyer who is lead counsel for one of the lawsuits against Harvard. Men's final clubs have been around for centuries and have large alumni networks and resources that can help them survive in challenging circumstances.

But still the central problem remains. Integrating a few women within male power centers without a strategy for dealing with, diffusing, or eliminating male power generally results in a backlash/mess. The result: the boys still have their exclusive power clubs where they can be groomed for entry into the elite halls of governmental/corporate power. Whereas women can't even have a little A Capella singing group.