Saturday, April 1, 2017

This week's developments in USGSO policy

The Crimson reported a confusing development this week in the battle over “Unrecognized Single Gender Social Organizations” at Harvard.

Traditionally all-female final clubs and sororities will be allowed to retain their “gender focus” for the next few years—and potentially beyond that period—while complying with the College’s policy penalizing single-gender social groups, according to Associate Dean of Student Life David R. Friedrich.

This fulfills the Implementation Committee’s recommendation that it “supports the idea of continuing to allow the female final clubs and sororities to operate with gender focused missions, with the understanding that the positive contributions of those organizations to the campus community would be assessed in three to five years.” There is a catch, however.

Friedrich clarified, however, that any groups’ gender-focused mission should exist simultaneously with “substantive advancement toward full inclusion,” including gender inclusivity.

This development brings two thoughts to mind.

First, when I referred in my original remarks before the Faculty to an Index of Prohibited Organizations, I was half joking. I didn’t think anyone would actually have to keep a list, because everybody knew which organizations were covered: The men’s and women’s Final Clubs, and the fraternities and sororities that were restricted to Harvard students. Targeting that constellation of clubs may not make a lot of ethical sense (seems odd that Lambda Upsilon stays off it by having MIT and Wellesley members), but at least it’s pretty well defined.

But now a published list really will have to exist. Someone in University Hall will have to make judgments about which groups have a “gender focus” and which are just women’s groups. Which groups are making “substantive advancement” and which groups’ advancement is less substantive. Which groups are making “positive” contributions and which groups’ contributions are neutral or negative. The keeper of the Index will move groups onto and off the list in accordance with periodic audits—another new concept introduced recently, which seems to mesh with the Implementation Committee’s recommendation that student groups submit their “demographic breakdown” to University Hall.

In the absence of a published Index, a student affirming her compliance with the USGSO policy could not know whether the organization of which she was a member was prohibited or not.

(At this point I was going to write a sentence or two explaining what was wrong with having a dean keeping the Index and deciding which organizations to move onto it on the basis that they are utterly without redeeming social value. I couldn’t make myself do it. If you don’t see anything wrong with this, probably nothing I could say would convince you.)

That was one thought. The other was surprise that the University would adopt an implementation plan that so plainly discriminated against men’s organizations. We have only the Implementation Committee report and the Crimson interview to go on, but it seems that what is described as a “gender focus” loophole is in fact strictly for women’s groups, and no men’s group can escape the Index on the basis that it makes positive contributions to the experience of its members.

Whatever the asymmetry between the experience of men and women at Harvard, I am surprised that the University would so starkly state that all men’s organizations are worthless and intolerable but women’s organizations can be useful and will be tolerated, having in its recent pronouncements focused exclusively on nondiscrimination as the rationale for the policy. It’s a very odd idea—gender discrimination in furtherance of gender nondiscrimination.

I have to wonder if this implementation plan meets President Faust’s minimum requirement.

“I hope that, and trust that, during the process things that might concern me would be communicated during the process,” Faust said. “Ultimately, I want to be able to ensure that this policy is not going to get us sued instantly, is legal, is something that the governing boards feel is acceptable to implement.”

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