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This story is part of The Crimson's Ten Stories That Shaped 2020 series. To view other parts, click here.
The University announced in June that it would drop its controversial sanctions against single-gendered social organizations following a Supreme Court ruling on sex discrimination.
First established in 2016, the sanctions prohibited members of single-gendered final clubs and Greek organizations from receiving fellowships, athletic captancies, and leadership positions in extracurricular activities. As a result, many final clubs and Greek organizations on campus became co-ed by reforming their membership process or merging with other social organizations.
First applied to the Class of 2021, the sanctions received intense scrutiny and spawned a pair of lawsuits in state court and federal court.
In announcing the reversal, University President Lawrence S. Bacow said it was clear federal courts would rule against the University in the social sanctions lawsuits, given the Supreme Court's historic decision in Bostock v. Clayton County earlier that month, ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against BGLTQ workers.
Some professors at Harvard Law School were not as certain the case would have undermined Harvard’s case for sanctions. Law School Professor Jeannie Suk Gersen speculated that Harvard decided to drop this lawsuit because it was “not as important as some other things it is currently defending in the courts, such as the Harvard admissions case.”
Nonetheless, internal communications and reports after the federal lawsuit revealed that Harvard administrators were hard-pressed in selling the sanctions to students and alumni from the beginning. In their early discussions, administrators struggled to combat various misconceptions and define the scope of the sanctions. They also acknowledged that sanctions against all-female social groups in particular would be “collateral damage.”
Though Harvard will no longer uphold the social sanctions, Bacow reinforced the University’s commitment to dismantling gender barriers that limit opportunities for students.
One month after the decision, the co-ed Delphic-Bee Club announced it will split back into the all-male Delphic Club and all-female Bee Club. This marks an end to the three year merger during which the two clubs shared a clubhouse on 9 Linden St. It is not yet clear how other co-ed social organizations will react to the sanctions being dropped.
—Staff writer Sixiao Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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