If you were involved in the sorority world in 2016, you likely heard about THE Harvard email. Students were just wrapping up finals when they received the news that Harvard would begin penalizing students who joined unrecognized single-gender social organizations. This policy would prevent sorority women from holding leadership roles in recognized Harvard organizations, captaining athletic teams, and receiving faculty and staff recommendations for fellowships and scholarships. The effects of this policy were immediate and devastating.
Despite the rallying of the Hear Her Harvard movement and successful litigation, the majority of fraternities and sororities were forced to close their doors. At a university that took over 300 years to award a woman with a diploma, the systematic shutdown of women’s empowerment groups sent a clear message.
Photo: Harvard Crimson
For most of us who are not students at Harvard, the situation can feel far away. You might say “sure, it is horrible what happened but how does this impact me?” The reality is, Harvard has set off a chain reaction of university initiatives which negatively impact the existence of our organizations. At the University of Southern California, a policy was put in place to prevent Primary Recruitment in the Fall semester. While women at this school are prevented from the choice to freely associate with sororities, male students are certainly not prohibited from joining groups like the football team. In 2019, University of Nevada, Reno asked sororities to sign an unreasonably restrictive relationship agreement which limited their rights to freely associate under the First Amendment. When NPC organizations declined to sign without further negotiation, the University immediately moved them to unrecognized status. These are just a few of the countless examples of universities attempting to limit the rights of women to freely associate with organizations of their choosing.
So, what is being done on the national level to protect our community?
The Fraternal Government Relations Coalition serves as a leading advocacy group, lobbying to preserve and support the Fraternity and Sorority Experience. Each Spring, they gather collegiate and alumni members from across the country to lobby Congress on the issues facing us. I had the opportunity to participate in the 2021 visits and advocate for the Collegiate Freedom of Association Act. This key piece of legislation will ensure that our communities are protected by defining what it means for a university to commit an adverse action against the Fraternity and Sorority Community and prevent this from occurring. Additionally, national organizations continue to utilize litigation to combat unfair policies coming from the university level.
What can I do?
Visit Congress.Gov and search H.R.6236 to read the Collegiate Freedom of Association Act as it was introduced in the 116th Congress. This legislation is wholly bipartisan, so reach out to your representatives to encourage them to support the reintroduction and passage of this critical bill.
Most importantly, wear your letters proudly. Women’s only social organizations offer us a unique opportunity to gain friendship, confidence, and leadership skills. The value of women’s spaces is immeasurable and our voices deserve to be heard. Share how sorority has benefited your life and strengthened your womanhood. Sisterhood is worth fighting for.
Maddy is one of our incredible interns who has contributed to Her Sorority Journey programming & development during the 2021 summer! Meet our rockstar team of interns here: https://www.hersororityjourney.com/about