What to learn, and not to learn, from the current sanctions debate
The long debate on the College’s sanctions against final clubs and other unrecognized single-gender social organizations is set to reach another milestone next month when the Faculty of Arts and Sciences votes on a motion denouncing the policy. After a debate earlier this month on the motion, members of the Faculty are no doubt aware of the many points of contention on both sides of the issue. Recently, three points of data suggesting that students oppose the sanctions—one from a Crimson survey, and two from UC referendum questions, have entered the discussion.
While these data points are all interesting, we urge the faculty to set them aside and instead focus on the merits of the arguments for and against the policy. While all three data points suggest opposition to the sanctions, they still show a sizable portion of the student body in favor. Given the current tenor of the debate, we also suggest that the administration begin to take stock of why the sanctions have engendered this level of uncertainty from students.
Lamentably, the data currently available do not present reliable figures on students’ perspectives on the sanctions. In The Crimson's survey of the student body, for example, a significant 20 percent said they had no opinion, suggesting at the very least that student opinions may still be in flux.
The problems with the UC referendum results are even clearer. Though more students voted, turnout was still quite low, and faculty should not assume that it is representative. Furthermore, while one question was straightforward in asking students whether they thought the current sanctions should be repealed, a second one asked "Do you think the unrecognized single gender social organizations should have gender-inclusive membership by a means different than the current College administered sanctions?" This second question is quite difficult to understand and does not accurately reflect student opinion, as evidenced by the high number of abstentions. Given this added source of confusion, Faculty should be wary of accepting the results of either referendum as a guide to the undergraduate mood.
Nevertheless, there are lessons to be drawn from the unrest and ambivalence that have surrounded the prospective sanctions. They are the direct result of the lack of input that preceded their announcement. Solving issues of sexual assault and inclusion rest largely on student buy-in, and consequently on consultation with students. While the Implementation Committee has made belated attempts to understand what students are thinking, these have only added to the confusion by making the policy’s exact contours less clear.Though the sanctions issue must be resolved in this current climate, we hope that administrators learn from the stumbles of this process. More student input at the beginning of such large initiatives will lead to smoother implementation, and will also clarify the objectives of future policies. For now, the Faculty should be skeptical of broad claims about student attitudes and evaluate the policy based on the merits of the arguments marshaled by each side.
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