If you’re a college student wanting to join a fraternity or sorority at Harvard, you may soon be out of luck.
Just this past week, it was reported in Harvard’s student-run Crimson that female sorority Kappa Alpha Theta will now instead be a “gender-neutral social group”. The club will change their name to Theta Zeta Xi, and be open to men.
Kappa Alpha Theta was first founded in 1870, when women comprised just .007 percent of college students. Harvard’s own chapter opened in 1993. The historic women’s sorority touts itself as an “inclusive, supportive, empowering community in which we push one another—in the best possible way—to be the finest versions of ourselves.” But this fall, Harvard’s club will officially disassociate itself from the national organization.
The surprising move comes as the result of Harvard’s controversial 2017 decision that, going forward, single-gender social clubs will be sanctioned, and participating members penalized. This means that students belonging to male- or female-only clubs (and Greek organizations) are officially prohibited from serving as varsity athletic team captains, holding leadership positions in other campus student groups, and perhaps worst of all, receiving college endorsements for prestigious fellowships.
The Office of Student Life was reportedly tasked with “overseeing the penalties.”
Initially, Harvard’s Alpha Kappa Theta members balked at the policy change, and resisted the university’s heavy-handed new policy.
The women issued a “defiant” joint statement with the Delta Gamma and Alpha Phi sororities, declaring they would continue with female-only recruitment for the spring of 2018. However, a recent vote among Theta members was unanimous: the fraternity will be moving to a co-ed model, after all.
Although it is unclear what, exactly, changed the women’s minds, it appears that Harvard’s threat of sanctions has had its intended effect. The official statement from the women of Alpha Kappa Theta reads: “This decision reflects our commitment to supporting our members as they take full advantage of the academic and leadership opportunities available to them as Harvard students, which we believe is central to our mission.”
Theta is not the first single-gender organization to bend to Harvard’s ideological pressures. Kappa Kappa Gamma, Kappa Sigma, Alpha Epsilon Phi, the Oak Club, the Sabliere Society, the Seneca, and the Spee Club have all recently made the transition to co-ed.
Harvard’s Associate Dean of Student Engagement, Alexander R. Miller, says he is pleased with the students’ pursuit of a "strong foundation of community values" that include "inclusion" and "non-discrimination."
But not everyone is so happy about the university’s bullying tactics.
Elizabeth A. Rinck, a representative of international Kappa Alpha Theta, wrote in an email:
“While we are saddened by circumstances that forced our sisters to make an impossible choice, we support their desire to form an organization independent of Kappa Alpha Theta and recognized by Harvard University, giving current and future members the ability to participate fully in college life.”
What these new groups will look like remains to be seen. Alpha Kappa Theta fraternity member Rena N. Simkowitz summed up the situation when she wrote, “It was not an easy decision to make; however, we are excited and optimistic about the future of our organization.”