College Cancels ‘Bridge’ Program For All-Female Social Groups

A Recurring Fight
Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority member Elly Duker '19 marched with her mother, Julie Starr-Duker '82, at the #HearHerHarvard protest against newly-announced sanctions against unrecognized single-gender social organizations. More than 200 women rallied in front of Massachusetts Hall in response to the policy, which will bar members of such organizations from holding leadership positions in official clubs and receiving top fellowships.
The College canceled a proposed “bridge” program that would have allowed traditionally all-female final clubs and sororities a longer period of time to go gender-neutral in the final enforcement plan for its social group policy administrators released Thursday morning.

Harvard’s roughly year-old policy, which took effect with the Class of 2021, bars members of single-gender final clubs and Greek organizations from campus leadership positions, the captaincies of varsity athletic teams, and from receiving College endorsement for certain fellowships.

The sanctions target both all-male and all-female groups. But under a proposal put forth in March 2017 by a committee tasked with reviewing the penalties, women’s groups would have been able to retain a “gender focus” while still complying with the College’s policy for three to five years.

Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana accepted that particular recommendation—along with many others—in March 2017. Now, though, the College has decided against the bridge program.

In lieu of that initiative, administrators are dedicating resources and personnel specifically to help women’s groups transition to co-ed status, according to the final plan released Thursday. The designated staff includes Heidi Wickersham, the program manager at the Harvard College Women’s Center, and unspecified employees in the Office of Student Life.

“[These administrators] will jointly partner with groups wishing to transition from having a women’s exclusive membership while maintaining a women’s-focused mission,” the plan reads. “We welcome all organizations, and especially those whose membership is currently restricted to women, to partner with us.”

The additional resources devoted to women’s groups are different from the suggested bridge program, according to Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane. Administrators ultimately chose not to accept that program—and the process to go gender-neutral will now be the same for both men’s and women’s groups, Dane said.

The final plan cited what it called Harvard’s “long and complex history of grappling with gender discrimination” in justifying the College’s decision to allocate staff specifically to women’s groups.

Khurana also pointed to historic inequalities faced by women at Harvard when he accepted the recommendation for the bridge program in March 2017. The dean wrote in a College-wide email at the time that he thought these disparities meant all-female groups might require additional resources to transition into “inclusive organizations.”

“I will consult with the Dean of Students and the Committee on Student Life on how to best support a vigorous and non-discriminatory social experience responsive to the realities that our students… are not all starting from the same place,” Khurana wrote in the email.

Shortly after its debut, the College’s social group policy drew protest from hundreds of Harvard women, who took to Harvard Yard to march in protest of what they described as unfair targeting of spaces for women.

Some all-female clubs have since chosen to openly defy the sanctions. The Harvard chapters of Alpha Phi, Delta Gamma, and Kappa Alpha Theta proceeded with standard all-female recruitment this spring, though the sororities drew roughly half as much interest as in previous years.

Other women-only groups, though, have taken the opposite tactic. Earlier this year, formerly all-female Kappa Kappa Gamma adopted gender-neutral membership practices and severed ties with its national organization to become the co-ed “Fleur-de-Lis” club. In its first-ever recruitment season, the Fleur garnered interest from 187 students and ultimately accepted 44.

Though the Fleur plans to accept men, it will remain a “female-focused group,” according to members.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

—Staff writer Michael E. Xie can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MichaelEXie1.


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