Harvard University announced yesterday it has repealed its policy of discriminating against certain all-female and all-male social groups, most commonly fraternities and sororities, from several scholarships and on-campus leadership opportunities. The university announced it has decided to drop the blacklist of students in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling.
The university has faced legal battles and widespread public criticism for its policy, particularly from the Greek fraternity and sorority system nationwide, including a lawsuit brought by some of the university’s greek houses.
In 2016, after the policy’s enactment, two national fraternities and two national sororities with chapters at the university filed a lawsuit in Boston’s federal court. They argued the school’s policy discriminates against students based on sex and promotes negative stereotypes about students who join single-sex organizations.
The United States District Court in Boston denied Harvard’s motion to dismiss the case. The lawsuit upheld the notion that the college’s blacklist is itself sex-based discrimination.
University President Lawrence Bacow released a statement June 29, announcing his dismissal of the four-year policy following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. The decision, ruled on June 15, prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.
Based on the precedent used to reach that decision, Bacow explained, it is clear that the District Court in Boston would use the new decision to side with the plaintiffs. With this new interpretation of federal law, Bascow wrote the university will therefore no longer continue with the policy.
CEO of the National Panhellenic Conference Dani Weatherford and CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference Judson Horras commented on the decision in a joint statement.
“Today’s announcement from the university is nothing short of an admission that their policy was misguided and openly discriminatory based on sex. This should serve as a lesson to Harvard and other universities—students are free to associate with other students without regard to their gender, and targeting single-sex student organizations is illegal and wrong.”
Despite his decision, Bacow reminded in the statement the policy was originally created to eliminate discrimination based on sex. He also commended all student groups who have altered their rules since the policy’s inception to remove gender.
“Harvard is fairer and better when a student’s gender does not stand as a barrier to social opportunities while in college or inhibit students’ access to alumni networks that can help enable opportunities later in life.”