Harvard gets hammered with lawsuits over 'sexist' same-sex club policy

A coalition of fraternities and sororities are suing Harvard University over a 2016 ruling that bars members of same-sex clubs from holding leadership positions on campus or being captains of sports teams and denies college endorsements for prestigious fellowships.

The plaintiffs filed two lawsuits, one in a Massachusetts court and one in federal court, alleging that Harvard’s policies are “sexist in the extreme” because they violate anti-sex discrimination law Title IX and the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuits further allege that Harvard discriminated against students based on sex and discourages students from joining same-sex clubs.

The plaintiffs in the Massachusetts suit are the national organization Alpha Phi, Harvard’s Alpha Phi chapter, and a management company for chapters of Delta Gamma. For the federal case, the plaintiffs are Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, the parent groups for Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Chi, as well as Harvard’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and three anonymous Harvard same-sex club members.

[RELATED: Harvard's last sorority crumbles in face of new sanctions]

“The common thread that ties together all of Harvard’s ever-shifting justifications for the sanctions policy is sexism,” the federal lawsuit states. “Harvard’s views that all-male organizations cause sexual assault because they are all-male and that there is no value to all-female or all-male organizations, are sexist in the extreme.”

The federal lawsuit argues that part of the discrimination lies with Harvard’s policies of not limiting the other types of groups students can join, saying that students could join “the American Nazi Party, or could create an off-campus undergraduate chapter of the Ku Klux Klan" without violating school policy.

"Harvard has really shown a disregard for the rights of its students to associate with people they want to associate with," said attorney David A. Russcol, a lawyer for the federal case, according to the Harvard Crimson. "What they do off campus shouldn't be any of Harvard's business. It's disappointing that the plaintiffs have had to take this action."

Both lawsuits request a court judgment condemning Harvard’s actions, as well as a court order requiring Harvard to cancel its sanctions. 

A spokesperson for the plaintiff Sigma Alpha Epsilon said in a statement to Campus Reform on Wednesday that its chapter "is still operating as a private, off-campus organization in Cambridge." But, the spokesperson added, "the devastation to women’s organizations has been immense and is indefensible, and because of their memberships, students in both men and women’s organizations have faced intimidation and fear retribution."

Our concerns with the policy are thoroughly detailed in the complaint. Harvard is trampling on students’ rights to choose their own leadership and social paths off-campus—rights guaranteed by the First Amendment," the spokesperson added. "In its own blinding sense of superiority, Harvard is punishing students, simply for belonging to organizations outside of Harvard that provide support, friendship, service, and social experiences off-campuses."

As Campus Reform  previously reported

Harvard has imposed sanctions on single-gender groups despite a survey finding that about 60 percent of Harvard students supported lifting the sanctions.

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