Sororities, fraternities, students in response to Harvard motion: You can’t dismiss us or our rights

By March 22, 2019Press Release

BOSTON – Today, sororities, fraternities and students respond to Harvard’s motions to dismiss a pair of lawsuits challenging the university sanctions policy that punishes students who join off-campus, single-sex social organizations. The lawsuits describe how Harvard used a campaign of threats and intimidation to scare students into abandoning their fundamental rights to free association and to live free of sex discrimination.

“Students do not give up their constitutional rights when they enroll at Harvard or on any other campus,” said Carole Jones, chairman of the National Panhellenic Conference, which works with 26 international sororities, including the sorority plaintiffs.

Harvard’s sanctions policy denies women who join women’s clubs and men who join men’s clubs the opportunity to hold on-campus leadership roles or to apply for prestigious post-graduate fellowships that require an institutional endorsement.

“Harvard ignores the devastating impact its actions have had on women’s spaces and women’s single-sex organizations, which unlike similar male organizations, have been nearly destroyed. Their response has brushed off these very reasonable concerns as ‘incidental,’” Jones said.

Regardless of Harvard’s ever-shifting justifications for the sanctions policy, Harvard now punishes students for their associations with other students of the same sex based on sexist stereotypes. Such a policy violates the most basic tenet of Title IX, that schools not discriminate against students “on the basis of sex.”

“I find it baffling that Harvard boasts that its students are among the brightest minds in the world, yet administrators won’t trust them to make decisions about how they choose to associate with one another,” said Judson Horras, the president and CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference, which works with 66 international men’s fraternities, including the fraternity plaintiffs.

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Background on the Lawsuits

In the federal suit, a broad coalition of students and women’s and men’s organizations impacted by Harvard’s sanctions—two international sororities, two international fraternities, a Cambridge fraternity chapter, and three current Harvard students—assert that through the sanctions policy, the president and fellows of Harvard College have interfered with students’ right to be free of sex discrimination, as guaranteed by Title IX and the U.S. Constitution.

Title IX has long recognized the important role single-sex organizations can play in student development, which is why it includes special protections for fraternities and sororities. Yet Harvard’s sanctions policy discriminates on the basis of sex and restricts the sex of people with whom students may associate, dictating punishments based on gender stereotypes.

In the suit filed in Massachusetts court, three women’s organizations—an international sorority, one of its chapters, and a sorority housing corporation—assert that Harvard has interfered with student’s rights to free association and equal treatment based on sex, both of which are protected by the Massachusetts Constitution. Alleging violations of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, the suit seeks to bring a stop to Harvard’s sanctions by calling for an injunction prohibiting the University from continuing to unlawfully punish students.

The plaintiffs and lawsuits have a breadth of support from nearly 100 single-sex organizations, including the 26 sororities of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the 66 fraternities of the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), and the organizations in the Cambridge Coalition. Learn more at standuptoharvard.org.