Monday, December 3, 2018
Several national fraternities and sororities sued Harvard University on Monday over a 2016 rule that discourages students from joining single-gender social clubs, marking the first legal challenge to the school's policy.
Two fraternities and two sororities filed a lawsuit in Boston's federal court, while another sorority separately sued the school in Massachusetts state court. Both cases argue that the school's policy discriminates against students based on their sex and spreads negative stereotypes about students who join all-male or all-female organizations.
Starting with last year's freshman class, Harvard students who are members of single-gender clubs are barred from leading campus groups or becoming captains of sports teams. The school also refuses to endorse the students for prestigious fellowships, including the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.
Harvard officials crafted the rule to curb secretive all-male groups known as "final clubs," whose members include some former U.S. presidents but have faced mounting criticism from the university. A 2016 report by the school accused the clubs of having "deeply misogynistic attitudes" and tied them to problems with sexual assaults.
But the rule also applies to a variety of other groups, including fraternities, sororities and even single-gender musical groups. Since the rule took effect last year, at least three sororities have cut ties with their national organizations and reopened as co-ed groups.
The Cambridge, Massachusetts, university was discriminating against students on the basis of their sex by punishing men and women who join all-male or all female-organizations, the lawsuits alleged.
The policy was motivated by sexism, with Harvard incorrectly seeking to link all-male organizations and fraternities to sexual assaults and contending that single-sex organizations subordinate women, according to the lawsuits.
“Harvard’s sanctions policy seeks to dictate the sex of people with whom men and women may associate and the gender norms to which men and women must conform,” the federal complaint said.
The policy has resulted in the elimination of nearly every women’s social organization, with Harvard administrators privately calling them “collateral damage” in their effort to punish men who join all-male groups, according to the complaint.
Title IX has an express exemption for fraternities and sororities:
Title IX does not apply to the membership practices of a social fraternity or social sorority if the active membership consists primarily of students in attendance at an institution of higher education and the fraternity or sorority is exempt from taxation under the Internal Revenue Code. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(6)(A); 34 C.F.R. § 106.14(a). All other programs and activities of social fraternities and sororities are governed by Title IX if they receive any Federal financial assistance. US Dept of Education, Exemptions from Title IX