Harvard and The Exclusionary Rule

You know what’s exclusive? Harvard. It’s about as exclusive as it gets. Yet, that obvious fact doesn’t alter the fantasy of re-engineering one of the most exclusive places on earth to create the impression that it’s inclusive.

Harvard students could soon be banned from joining any private social organization or club.

If the recommendations contained in a just-released, 22-page report are enacted, Harvard would extend previously-proposed sanctions against students joining single-gender clubs, to all “fraternities, sororities, and similar organizations,” regardless of their co-ed status. And instead of instituting a blacklist — leaving non-compliant students unable to captain Harvard-recognized sports teams, or be nominated for prestigious scholarships, for example — violators would be subject to formal “disciplinary action.”

This began with Final Clubs, segregated by gender (at least if one considers male/female to be gender), which gave rise to cries of sexism. But once the ball started rolling, it became hard to stop. And it quickly rolled over fraternities and sororities, because they too are segregated by gender.

And then, as reflected in a student letter attached as an exhibit to the committee report, some students’ feelings could be hurt if they weren’t “punched,” asked to join one of these exclusive segregated clubs, and that’s just not right. Much as one student may swell with pride at being invited to join such an exclusive group, another will cry himself to sleep at night knowing that he was rejected, unwanted, undesired. What of his feelings?

While the First Amendment to the Constitution provides for freedom of association, it’s not implicated here. Harvard is a private institution, and its relationship with its students is, in essence, contractual. Harvard makes the rules and if the students don’t like it, they can go to Yale. And if the alumni don’t like it, they don’t have to donate. The likelihood of any legal action against Harvard prevailing isn’t strong.

Mind you, the proposal isn’t just to eliminate gender segregated clubs, but all exclusive clubs. Mind you, the proposal is to subject “violators” to formal discipline. You know, up to suspension and expulsion. That type of formal discipline. As the committee stated in the opening to its report:

Harvard College’s commitment to non-discrimination, inclusion, and a healthy social climate has guided and animated the work of this Committee. The Faculty has stated clearly its commitment to the value of diversity in the educational experience at Harvard and this Committee’s recommendations build upon that commitment.

It all sounds wonderful. Non-discrimination, inclusion and a healthy social climate. What’s not to like? Do you want an unhealthy social climate? What kind of a monster are you?

While any policy regarding the unrecognized single-gender social organizations (USGSOs) is necessarily aimed at a small population of organizations and students who participate in
them, the effects of those organizations permeate the fabric of campus culture. Few students remain untouched by them.

Indeed, fraternity parties, final clubs, are very much a critical part of campus culture.

As reflected in survey comments, these organizations directly and negatively influence the undergraduate experience for many students who are not themselves members of these organizations. The discriminatory practices of these organizations undermine our educational mission and the principles espoused by this Faculty and distance their members from their College experience.

This is all true. Some of the discrimination is based on characteristics like gender. Some are based on less obvious characteristics, like whether the people in an exclusive club think you’re their type of people, the kind they want to hang out with. There is a whiff of socio-economics in there, as there may be some discrimination against the poor, even minority, students who may not “fit in” with the elites. Then again, it doesn’t necessarily work out that way.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is collecting their stories, including Camille N’Diaye-Muller, president of her Harvard sorority and the daughter of a Bronx public-school teacher who turned down a full Princeton scholarship for Cambridge:

When I found my sorority on campus, I found a place where women from different academic fields, political affiliations, interests, and backgrounds came together solely to support one another. It’s been the only place where I have not been afraid to be authentic and honest, and that I did not feel that my value was tied to anything other than being myself. …

[The task force recommendations] hurt the same people they were trying to help. Future Harvard women will not have these safe spaces that I and others have found in our sororities.

That this is happening at Harvard is important from the standpoint that peer and lesser schools will follow suit. If Harvard does it, others will follow. Harvard will lead the way to the campus Utopia of inclusion and non-discrimination.

And despite the reaction that such social engineering obliterates tradition, a long and beloved history and the ability of students to gather together in groups of people with whom they want to associate, even safe spaces for women to enjoy each other’s comfort and support, the theoretical foundation used to eradication of discrimination and exclusivity makes a great deal of sense. These are exclusive clubs. They do discriminate. They discriminate based on factors that are protected by law, gender, and unrecognized by law, camaraderie.

It comes down to a value judgment. Is the “mission” of inclusion and diversity worth the eradication of exclusive clubs, the end of free association where it is otherwise unprotected? What about the conflict of free association and non-discrimination where it is protected?

These changes, should they come to pass, implicate a great many follow up questions. Do sorority houses disappear or do they become boarding houses where anybody can move in? Will your roomie be the same gender as you? If not, are you allowed to find that awkward, in that you neither want to stare at another gender’s equipment nor want them to stare at yours?

These are the questions that might have seemed laughable a few years ago, because everyone understood that non-discrimination had its limits, and that no reasonable person would demand the elimination of all traditions, all vestiges of free association, all segregation, whether by gender or friendship. There is nothing about this committee report that is theoretically false, yet the world it seeks to create will be vastly different than the one many wish to live in. And yet, there are others who desperately want this brave new world.

17 thoughts on “Harvard and The Exclusionary Rule

  1. Richard Kopf


    Does Harvard intend to ban the Ladies Who Lunch?*

    All the best.


    * Elaine Stritch’s version is the best. By the way, Stephen Sondheim (who graduated Williams College) must have been a real monster to have even thought of such lyrics.

  2. B. McLeod

    Well, if your roomie isn’t the same gender, you can switch your “identity” to fix that, right?

    Not to repeat an old story in detail, but although I could not afford to attend Harvard, I visited the campus once. At least that part that was accessible to the public, which included the main campus library. As I have mentioned before, it had very fine bathrooms, with a lot of marble and shiny brass. After my return to The Shire, I was actually a minor celebrity for a few years, because I had seen the great Harvard, and had stories to tell.

    Based solely on my lived experience, and assuming everything at Harvard is as good as the design and maintenance of the bathrooms, I would say if they are doing this stuff at Harvard, it is probably good, and ABA should pass a supporting Resolution (if it hasn’t already).

      1. Jeffrey Gamso

        Or maybe he doesn’t know stuff, even though he was there. We lived, for about 6 weeks one summer, with a bunch of non-Ivy college faculty in a Harvard dormitory. Where water leaked into the rooms when it rained. The place was a dump.

        The libraries may be wonders, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

  3. REvers

    Oklahoma boy: Hey, can you tell me where the library’s at?

    Harvard student: At Harvard, we don’t end sentences with prepositions.

    Oklahoma boy: Sorry. Can you tell me where the library’s at, ASSHOLE?

    I now understand that joke in a way that I never did before.

  4. Dan T.

    At what point would a group of friends hanging out regularly become a prohibited “club”?

    The Harry Potter villain Umbridge made a whole series of oppressive regulations while running Hogwarts, including one banning all unauthorized student organizations.

  5. Noxx

    On the practical application side, think of the number of interesting secret societies this would engender.

  6. Scott Jacobs

    By this logic, Harvard shouldn’t refuse anyone admission to the university, because that would hurt the person’s feelings.

  7. Lucas Beauchamp

    Whenever I hear academics complaining about elitism, I think of Virginia planters accusing John Adams of being an aristocrat.

  8. Dan Gray

    While reading this, I couldn’t help but think about David Spade’s secret society from the movie PCU:

    “America’s greatest President”
    “Who is Ronald Reagan”
    “A casual shoe for yachting”
    “What is a blucher”
    “They killed Jesus Christ”
    “Who are the Jews”

    Force these types of idiots back underground, because it worked so swell for everyone in the past. Once the prestigious social clubs are secret again, they’ll push to have them come out of hiding, and the cycle will begin again.

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