Prestigious Harvard Sued By National Fraternities And Sororities Over ‘Discriminatory’ Single-Gender Rule

Lawsuits claim the school's policy unfairly penalizes students based upon gender.

Students at Harvard University pose for the camera.
Facebook/Harvard University

Lawsuits claim the school's policy unfairly penalizes students based upon gender.

Two fraternities and two sororities have filed a lawsuit against Harvard University in Massachusetts federal court — while another sorority has sued the school in Massachusetts state court — over a 2016 rule that they claim is unfair. Individual students also are legally challenging the legitimacy of a controversial school rule.

The 2016 rule in question attempts to deter students from belonging to single-gender social clubs. The rule states that any Harvard students who are members of these types of clubs are banned from leading campus organizations and groups, and cannot serve as captains of athletic teams. Further, the school will not endorse any students who belong to single-gender social clubs for fellowships, reports NBC News.

The rule is designed to block Harvard students from belonging to top-secret all-male groups known as final clubs. Some former U.S. presidents have belonged to these entities. But a 2016 report published by the school stated that these types of clubs have “deeply misogynistic attitudes,” and could be linked to sexual assaults.

However, this rule has unexpectedly impacted fraternities, sororities, and single-gender musical groups on campus — such as a cappella troupes. While Harvard does not recognize fraternities or sororities as official school groups, these remain opportunities available to students, with residential options existing off-campus. Harvard’s single-gender rule has reduced the groups’ membership base, and deeply cut into their bottom line.

“The common thread that ties together all of Harvard’s ever-shifting justifications for the sanctions policy is sexism. 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 suit stated.

The federal suit claims that Harvard’s 2016 rule also violates Title IX, a 1972 law enacted to protect students from gender discrimination at schools which receive federal funding. According to Bloomberg News, many Congressional members belonged to Greek organizations — and that’s why they were specifically exempted from Title IX. Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush received an honorary degree at Harvard’s 2014 commencement.

The sororities suing Harvard in federal court are Kappa Kappa Gamma and Kappa Alpha Theta. Their local chapters have since broken apart, and hope to resurface as co-ed groups. The two fraternities involved in the federal suit are Sigma Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

The lawsuit filed in Massachusetts state court argues that Harvard’s rule infringes upon civil rights laws. That case was filed by the sorority Alpha Phi and the Delta Gamma Fraternity Management Corporation, whose local chapter shuttered its chapter house in August due to financial struggles it blames on the school’s rule.