In a move destined to upset some members of the university, Harvard's faculty committee is recommending ending fraternities, sororities, and exclusive final clubs. On Wednesday morning, a committee of Harvard faculty announced its recommendation, citing the social effects of membership within such societies and clubs.
To be clear, fraternities and final clubs are not the same thing. While fraternities are formally recognized by the university, final clubs are not officially associated with the institution and are frequently more exclusive than fraternities themselves. Examples of final clubs at Harvard include the Fly club and the Porcellian club. Most of these final clubs only admit males, with a few clubs more recently initiating all-female membership.
The recommendation was made in a detailed 22-page long rumination on the frequent problems posed by fraternities and sororities. The crux of the argument centered on the social effects of membership in these organizations. Among other reasons, faculty members pointed to the common issues of elitist membership that they believe excludes certain students, gender discrimination, and rampant alcohol consumption.
In the paper titled Report of the Committee on the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations, Harvard faculty stated the main goal of their recommendation was "ending the gender segregation and discrimination of these organizations in a manner that is consistent with our educational mission, non-discrimination principles, and applicable law." On a broad level, selective-membership taking place at fraternities, sororities, and final clubs was criticized for overlooking the different social backgrounds of students who were more likely to be kept out of these organizations.
A committee of faculty, staff and students at Harvard suggests phasing out exclusive social clubs https://t.co/peckPvvkbw— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 13, 2017
This is not the first incident of a campus-based deliberation on societies and clubs at Harvard. Fraternities are frequently criticized for reports of sexism within the organizations but final clubs, over the past few years, have gained a particularly negative reputation at Harvard. Last year, Harvard's task force on sexual assault prevention released a sharp criticism of final clubs, which were perceived to contain and exhibit "deeply misogynistic attitudes."
In the report itself from Harvard's faculty, final clubs were criticized as the teachers believe that they "directly and negatively influence the undergraduate experience for many students who are not themselves members of these organizations." Perhaps the most compelling argument from the report included a letter from a student who had once been in a final club and witnessed the stultifying effect of such membership personally. The student mentioned gender discrimination targeting female students, all-male membership, and frequent sexist humor at such clubs.
Although the report came out a few days ago, the recommendation has yet to be submitted to Harvard's administration. While some may agree with the ethical impetus behind doing away with fraternities, sororities, and final clubs as they are perceived to uphold certain socioeconomic backgrounds over less-advantaged ones, others may not agree with the move. A possible backlash against the motion could result in alumni pulling their social and financial support away from the university out of disagreement with the proposition.