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Harvard Athletics Will Use ‘Honor System’ to Implement Sanctions Policy

Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River.
Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Devin B. Srivastava, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard Athletics Department will use an “honor system” to implement the College’s sanctions on members of certain single-gender social organizations, outgoing Athletics Director Robert L. Scalise said in an interview Friday.

Scalise’s comments come three years after Harvard first announced the sanctions, which bar members of single-gender final clubs, sororities, and fraternities from captaining varsity athletics teams. The sanctions, which apply to the Class of 2021 and all successive classes, also prevent members of unrecognized social clubs from holding leadership positions in student organizations and receiving College endorsement for prestigious fellowships like the Rhodes.

Since their announcement, the sanctions have drawn questions from students and other affiliates as to how the College plans to implement and enforce them. In March 2017, a committee tasked with formulating an implementation plan for the sanctions provided a 46-page document to Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana with their recommendations.

Scalise, who will retire in June 2020, said Friday that the Athletics Department will expect prospective captains to withdraw themselves from consideration if they are members of single-gender social groups.

“I think it's more of an honor system, rather than creating a big bureaucracy, where you make everybody sign a form and find out who's in and who's not in,” Scalise said.

If the Department later discovers that a selected captain is a member of one of the sanctioned groups, it will strip that person of their captainship.

“If someone got elected captain, and then we found out that they didn't [tell the Athletics Department], well, then they kind of lied to us a little bit,” Scalise said. "You know, we would need to remove them as captain.”

Captain selection processes vary from team to team, though the Athletics department provides general guidelines, according to Scalise. He said that ideally, athletes decide who should captain their teams and how many captains should lead the team.

“Coaches can make a statement, but they should not be running that process,” Scalise said.

In many cases, captain selection is run without coaches or staff members present. For example, the men’s swim team uses a “peer election process” and the coaches do not have any oversight, according to varsity swimmer Charles J. Vaughan ’21.

Several athletes say there has been little communication from their coaching staff or the athletic administration regarding implementation of sanctions policies with regards to varsity teams captaincies. Six athletes, representing four different teams, said in interviews with The Crimson that they have not heard anything from administrators about implementation of the sanctions.

Some athletes said they are skeptical about whether the administration will be able to enforce the sanctions.

“If you really want to be a part of a single-gender organization, even if the sanctions do apply to your social class, you’re going to do it anyway,” men’s volleyball team member Adam Gordon ’21 said. “There’s really not much stopping you.”

Scalise said the Athletics Department is simply following the College’s larger philosophy on implementation.

“The standard is what the standard is for all Harvard students,” he said. “We're not trying to create our own policies or our own thing that it hasn't been vetted by everyone.”

The Athletics Department’s implementation of the sanctions policies are consistent with the Dean of Students’ Office’s policies, according to College spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman.

Scalise said implementing the sanctions has been difficult.

“It's hard to articulate it, to put it in writing,” he said. “We're trying to do the right thing here.”

—Staff writer Devin B. Srivastava can be reached at

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