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Sororities, Fraternities Nationwide Declare Support for Lawsuit Challenging Harvard’s Sanctions

Rebecca J. Ramos '17 speaks at a press conference concerning the lawsuit facing Harvard regarding the sanctions on social clubs.
Rebecca J. Ramos '17 speaks at a press conference concerning the lawsuit facing Harvard regarding the sanctions on social clubs. By Shera S. Avi-Yonah
By Shera S. Avi-Yonah and Caroline S. Engelmayer, Crimson Staff Writers

Embracing the motto “Stand Up to Harvard,” scores of fraternities and sororities nationwide declared their support for a pair of lawsuits filed Monday that seek to cancel the University’s controversial social group sanctions.

Representatives from at least 10 Greek organizations penned messages — both on Twitter and in emails to The Crimson — arguing Harvard’s social life policy is coercive and illegal. Fraternity and sorority members urged the courts to strike it down.

Numerous alumni of fraternities and sororities also posted on Twitter in support of the suits, linking to a website the plaintiffs created to bolster their case.

“On December 3, brave students, sororities and fraternities filed lawsuits in federal and Massachusetts courts to stand up for the rights of students,” read a tweet many alumni re-posted verbatim across the social media site. “It is time to stand up to Harvard.”

Harvard’s sanctions — which took effect with the Class of 2021 — bar members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from holding campus leadership positions, varsity team athletic captaincies, and from receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships like the Rhodes.

Harvard’s penalties have drawn vehement opposition from some students, faculty, and alumni alike since their debut in May 2016. Now, two lawsuits filed by students, sororities, and fraternities allege the policy constitutes sex-based discrimination and denies undergraduates freedom of association.

A complaint filed in federal court by Greek organizations and three anonymous Harvard undergraduates asserts the sanctions are discriminatory based on sex and violate Title IX and the United States Constitution. A suit brought in Massachusetts court by two sororities alleges the social group penalties violate the Massachusetts Constitution and the state’s Civil Rights Act by denying undergraduates equal treatment based on their sex.

Representatives from national fraternities and sororities Alpha Omicron Pi, Delta Upsilon, and Alpha Xi Delta wrote in emailed statements that they support the plaintiffs in both cases.

“Delta Upsilon International Fraternity strongly supports the action taken to challenge Harvard’s sanction policy that punishes students who join off-campus, single-sex social organizations,” Delta Upsilon Director of Communications Ashley Martin Schowengert wrote.

The plaintiffs in both cases defended their anti-sanctions arguments and denounced Harvard’s policy at a press conference held Monday in Harvard Square.

At the event, former Delta Gamma president Rebecca J. Ramos ’17 said the sanctions have crippled the sorority in the year since she graduated. Pointing to an anti-penalties protest attended by hundreds of women in the days following former University President Drew G. Faust’s 2016 announcement of the policy, she argued the policy has spurred backlash from some students for years.

“Harvard attempted to tell the female students what would be good for them without bothering to ask them,” Ramos said.

Lawyers overseeing both suits argued the policies are not only controversial, they are unconstitutional.

Zalkind, Duncan, and Bernstein partner Emma Quinn-Judge, the lead lawyer for the state case, said at the press conference that Harvard’s sanctions bar women from “opportunities” that men at the College can enjoy. She said the policy violates anti-sex discrimination provisions in the Massachusetts Constitution and Civil Rights Act.

“These experiences and the opportunities that they provide go beyond students’ time at Harvard,” she said. “While they’re here, they provide them with networks, opportunities to learn from each other, to become leaders together, to share their views, to empower one another, to raise their voices together.”

R. Stanton Jones — a partner at Arnold & Porter, the well-connected D.C.-based law firm that has helped final clubs and Greek groups lobby Congress in the hope of canceling the sanctions — said at the press conference that the social organization penalties constitute “an unprecedented intrusion by Harvard into the private lives of its students and the choices they make about who to associate with off-campus.”

Harvard must file responses to both suits within the next several weeks, lawyers for the plaintiffs said Monday.

College spokesperson Rachael Dane did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

—Staff writer Simone C. Chu contributed reporting.

—Staff photographer Kai R. McNamee contributed reporting.

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

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