Sororities and fraternites have sued Harvard College, alleging the Ivy League school of single-sex social clubs with sanctions that are discriminatory. Photo courtesy Harvard College
Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Harvard College is punishing single-sex social clubs with sanctions that are discriminatory, according to Massachusetts and federal lawsuits by parent organizations of sororities and fraternities.
The plaintiffs want the state and U.S. courts to stop Harvard from actions against students in male-only and female-only groups, according to the legal action filed Monday.
The federal suit claims a violation of the education Title IX and the U.S. Constitution. The Massachusetts complaint asserts the sanctions violate the state's Civil Rights Act and the Massachusetts Constitution because they deny students equal treatment based on their sex.
Harvard stopped formally recognizing single-sex clubs in 1984 but they operate off campus.
Harvard's sanctions, which took effect with the Class of 2021, prevent members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from holding campus leadership positions and serving as varsity athletic captains, and not allowing college endorsement for prestigious fellowships like the Rhodes.
Final clubs are the last club a student joins before graduating.
"Harvard has engaged in an aggressive campaign of intimidation, threats and coercion against all students who join single-sex organizations and advocate for their continued existence," including threatening to expel a student who joins such a group, according to lawsuits.
Students have received "scathing criticism," plaintiffs claim.
With the policy, Harvard has "succeeded perversely" in eliminating nearly every women's social organization. They have closed their doors or become coed, say the plaintiffs.
"Harvard has erased these empowering women's spaces, and it has done so paternalistically, without the input of these women and to the devastation of their organizations," Laura Doerre, former international president of Kappa Alpha Theta said at a news conference on Monday.
Other plaintiffs in the national suit are Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority as well as the parent groups for two fraternities, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Chi. Harvard's chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and three current undisclosed Harvard students who are members of all-male social clubs have joined in the suit.
The state suit was filed by the international parent group of sorority Alpha Phi, Harvard's newly reinstated chapter of Alpha Phi and a management company for chapters of sorority Delta Gamma.
Rachael Dane, a spokeswoman for Harvard, declined comment on the lawsuits.
In a May interview with the Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana said: "At Harvard, we have a very specific mission of educating citizens and citizen leaders for our diverse and interconnected society. We do not believe that it is effective to basically institutionalize segregation."
In October, Khurana said he hoped to avoid legal action.
"Personally, I believe that most of these organizations are trying to find a way to become inclusive and evolve," he said. "It's just not always easy."