Task Force Proposes Harvard Expel Students Who Join All-Male Clubs

Report fuels administration’s push to compel final clubs to go co-ed

Harvard / Wikimedia Commons
March 10, 2016

A task force charged with examining sexual assault at Harvard University is recommending that the school bar students from joining its all-male final clubs, blaming the single-sex organizations for perpetuating a "harmful sexual culture" on campus.

The task force argued in a new report that the all-male organizations, which have no formal relationship with the university, should be forced to accept women in order to fix the problem of sexual assault on Harvard’s campus. The report, published this week, followed attempts by the Harvard administration to compel the all-male final clubs to accept women, an effort that the Washington Free Beacon previously reported has angered graduate members of the organizations and made current student members fear for their reputations.

The report from the Harvard Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Assault was accompanied by several appendices, including one from the task force’s so-called "outreach and communications subcommittee" that presented a set of "ideas" for the administration to deal with the final clubs. One of the proposals suggested that the school threaten students with expulsion if they join an all-male final club.

"Either don’t allow simultaneous membership in final clubs and college enrollment; or allow clubs to transition to all-gender inclusion with equal gender membership and leadership," the subcommittee wrote. The latter would involve the administration "provisionally register[ing] all-gender clubs for monitoring" and "requir[ing] they have ongoing sexual assault education and assigned sober bystanders at social events."

Members of the task force, convened in 2014, accused the final clubs of contributing to a culture of sexual misconduct, citing "extensive" outreach interviews with Harvard students and survey results that they argued point to the all-male clubs as a source of sexual assault at Harvard.

"Students shared their deep concern about the continuing presence of social spaces owned by male-only groups with exclusive membership practices," the task force wrote. "Students understand that Harvard’s centuries-long history as a predominantly white male institution creates an imprint on their educational experience, but they expect to see progress moving forward."

To achieve such progress, Harvard must push the clubs to accept female members, the task force argued.

"Cultures that reflect male control and exclusivity encourage the marginalization of women and assumptions about sexual entitlement. Inclusive membership would necessarily shift that culture at the same time that it would affirm fundamental principles of equity," the report concluded. The task force encouraged the administration to work with the final clubs to accept women and, if such conversations should fail, "not rule out any alternative approaches."

The report highlighted data compiled last year showing that 47 percent of female college seniors who reported being members of or "participating" in the final clubs experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. Women cannot become members of the all-male final clubs, though they can join one of Harvard’s all-female final clubs.

The task force took this statistic to demonstrate that female students interacting socially with members of the all-male clubs were more likely to be sexually assaulted than those who do not associate with the groups.

Alumni told the Free Beacon that the result was misleading.

The report also cited previously released data that showed 16 percent of sexual assaults committed on university property occurred in spaces used by single-sex organizations. The final clubs, however, are located off campus. Meanwhile, 87 percent of sexual assaults occurring on campus happened in university dorms.

"This is now the second time we have seen the university mislead the public on data," a graduate of one of the all-male final clubs said. "For an institution devoted to rigorous academic standards, this is absolutely unacceptable. This administration is determined to never let the facts get in the way of a good story. It is hell-bent on diverting attention from the simple truth: that it has a major problem of sexual assaults on its own property, a problem for which it has no ideas on how to stop."

The report does appear to acknowledge that the final clubs may not be the principal source of the sexual assault issue.

"We are not suggesting that the problem of sexual assault at Harvard is solely or even principally a byproduct of the activities and influence of final clubs. The behavioral and cultural problems run deep and implicate a range of institutional structures and behavioral choices that extend well beyond the clubs," the task force wrote. "We also recognize that the survey data are not particularized, the information from the outreach was likewise often general in nature, that collectively they do not offer insight into potential variations among the clubs, and that they do not permit us to untangle complex questions of causation."

That notion, however, does not ultimately influence the recommendation that the clubs be forced to pursue "nondiscriminatory and open membership practices." The task force also called on the administration to work with other "gender-exclusionary social organizations" such as fraternities and sororities to alter their exclusive practices.

The members of the task force include a number of Harvard professors and graduates, as well as Stephanie Khurana, one of the campus dorm heads who is married to the dean of Harvard College. The undergraduate dean, Rakesh Khurana, has been aggressively pushing the final clubs to accept women for months, arguing that they are elitist and not "appropriate" for the college.

Alumni members of the clubs told the Free Beacon in January that Khurana threatened in closed-door meetings to make students who joined the clubs subject to expulsion. They argued that his actions amounted to coercion and an attack on the freedom of association. After one of the clubs agreed to go co-ed, its leaders wrote a letter to graduates in October recounting the "tremendous pressure" the administration applied to the groups to force them to accept female members.

Khurana intends to submit a plan addressing the issues raised by the task force, particularly the "problems" with the final clubs, by the end of May, according to a news release from the school.

An alumnus member of one of the final clubs told the Free Beacon that the task force report lacked evidence that the proposal to force the groups to accept women would have any affect on minimizing campus sexual assault.

"Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once said, ‘We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe,’" the graduate said, quoting the former Supreme Court associate justice who was also a graduate of one of the final clubs, the Porcellian Club.

"This report is long on attacks on the ‘unsafe culture’ promoted by final clubs and short on evidence that their proposed solutions would do anything to actually prevent women from being hurt. Instead, this is another exercise in what Holmes described as ‘the passion of equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy.’"