New Committee on Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations

March 7, 2017

Dear colleagues,

Now that the work of the Implementation Committee has been publicly released, I am able to charge, as asked, a new committee to gather and evaluate suggestions related to the Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organization (USGSO) policy. The USGSO committee will benefit from the leadership of co-chairs Suzannah Clark, Professor of Music, and Rakesh Khurana, Danoff Dean of Harvard College, and the committee's specific charge appears at the bottom of this message.

While the student members will be recruited in the coming days, the faculty and staff membership of the USGSO Committee is confirmed as follows:

Paul Barreira, Director of Harvard University Health Services
Theodore Bestor, Reischauer Institute Professor of Social Anthropology; Director, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies
Naisha Bradley, Director, Harvard College Women's Center
Nathan Fry, Senior Associate Director of Athletics
David Haig, George Putnam Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology
Alison Johnson, Professor of History
James Kloppenberg, Charles Warren Professor of American History
Luke Leafgren, Allston Burr Assistant Dean for Mather House
Brigitte Libby, Allston Burr Assistant Dean for Pforzheimer House
Daniel Lieberman, Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences
Caroline Light, Lecturer on Studies of Women. Gender, and Sexuality
Yukio Lippit, Professor of History of Art and Architecture
Jason Mitchell, Professor of Psychology
Sandra Naddaff, Senior Lecturer on Literature and Comparative Literature; Honorary Associate and Former Master of Mather House; Dean of Harvard Summer School
Katherine O’Dair, Dean of Students
David Pilbeam, Henry Ford II Professor of Human Evolution
Mariano Siskind, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature; Chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures
Latanya Sweeney, Professor of Government and Technology in Residence; Faculty Dean of Currier House
David Friedrich, Associate Dean of Students, has graciously agreed to serve as staff to the committee, and Ara Gershengorn, University Attorney, will serve as counsel.

On behalf of the Faculty, I want to express my profound gratitude to these colleagues who have agreed to immerse themselves in the policy and related issues and to consult with our community. As described in the charge below, the work of the committee is to be completed by the end of this spring semester with the goal of presenting any recommendations to the Faculty in the fall. I look forward to supporting the committee as they develop their public report and bring forward recommendations.

Sincerely yours,

Michael D. Smith
Edgerley Family Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Committee Charge:
In February 2016, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences reaffirmed the University’s “long-held and oft expressed view” that student body diversity is essential to Harvard College’s pedagogical objectives and institutional mission.  That report recognized that we take intentional steps not only in the classroom but also through attention to the structures and institutions in which our students spend their time at Harvard.  “We want our students to engage with each other not only in their classes but where they eat, play, dance, sing, act, debate, write, throw, catch, relax, and, of course, study.  We seek to achieve this goal through very deliberate choices in the way in the College is structured.”
The College adopted, in May 2016, a new policy regarding unrecognized single-gender social organizations (USGSO) with the explicit goal of 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. For more than 30 years – since Harvard withdrew recognition from the male Final Clubs out of a belief that students should not be excluded from structured campus activities and organizations solely on the basis of their gender -- the USGSOs have grown to be an outsized part of student social life. 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.
Today, the importance of inclusion and belonging, of nondiscrimination and acceptance, and of respect and tolerance for others cannot be gainsaid.  The work of this committee – and ensuring that our students have non-discriminatory access to social opportunities that help define a Harvard College experience – is an integral part of our ongoing efforts to prepare our students to join in the fellowship of educated people and be leaders and examples for this world. The current USGSO policy addresses the complex issues that surround these organizations and the challenges they have posed for decades to our efforts to provide an inclusive and safe intellectual and social environment for our students. Further input from the faculty may strengthen our commitment to this approach or may yet uncover other approaches that are equally or even more effective at achieving our stated objectives.
With these considerations in mind, I charge the USGSO committee as follows:

  • To familiarize itself with the current USGSO policy, its accepted implementation, and all available data relating to unrecognized single-gender social organizations. This will include but is not limited to the report of the Implementation Committee, the Task Force on Sexual Assault, Visiting Committee and Overseers reports, student survey responses, and information from other colleges and universities about their experiences with similar types of organizations;
  • To consider whether there are other means of achieving our stated goals, including and especially that of fully advancing the non-discrimination objectives reflected in the current policy, and to evaluate whether any would be more effective than our current policy.
  • To propose, should more effective means be identified, changes or expansions to the current policy or a new approach.

In developing its recommendations, the committee will consult as appropriate with the broader Harvard community, including members of the FAS faculty and students, on issues relating to student social life, inclusion, and belonging. The committee is asked to complete its work by the end of this semester and to present its public report and recommendations to me in the early fall of 2017. Any recommended change to our current policy must be approved by the President of the University.