Monday, August 21, 2017

Guest post by Boaz Barak on the social club policy

I thank the committee for their work, but find it unfortunate that two distinct issues have been entangled in this discussion.
One is the issue of promoting Harvard's "values" and in particular diversity and inclusivity, and the other is the issue of student safety.
Regarding the former, I find the suggested policy excessive. Between classes, the houses, and Harvard-sponsored extracurricular activities, we have enough access to the students to educate them as citizens and future leaders. We do not need to control their every waking moment. There is enough work for us to do to lead by example in promoting diversity on campus (in particular in fields such as computer science).
Student safety is paramount - we can't educate students if they are unsafe. Alcohol abuse and sexual assault are real issues that we should combat. Final clubs are not inherently unsafe (for example, to my knowledge, such concerns have not been raised regarding the all-female clubs). Rather it is the *actions* of *some* clubs that are problematic. I think Harvard can and should discipline students for harming fellow students or putting them at risk, whether on or off campus. (For example, by organizing a party in which students are encouraged to drink to excess and sexual assault takes place.) Indeed, in some cases Cambridge PD should be involved as well. But the key point is that we discipline students for their actions and not their associations.
Finally, the issue of sexual assault is far too important to be used as a pretext or vehicle for promoting grand social objectives, no matter how positive. The task force on the prevention of sexual assault had a great number of important recommendations, most of which had nothing to do with final clubs (which, as their report stated are "not the exclusive or even the principal cause of sexual assault").  I find it unfortunate that this issue has become the "tail that wags the dog" and a distraction from the efforts to address what is a real and urgent safety concern.
Boaz Barak, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science 
cross-posted with permission from the FAS Wiki

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