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Student Life Committee Examines Final Sanctions Plan

{image id=1326703 size=large byline=true caption="Dean of Students Katherine G. O'Dair."}

The Committee on Student Life met Thursday morning to discuss the College’s long-anticipated final implementation plan for its social group policy—and to begin to determine the committee’s role in evaluating that policy.

The College’s penalties, which took effect with the Class of 2021, bar members of unrecognized single-gender social groups from campus leadership positions, the captaincies of varsity athletic teams, and from receiving College endorsement for various prestigious fellowships. After at least a month of delay, administrators published a final plan detailing how Harvard will enforce these penalties Thursday.

University President Drew G. Faust and the Harvard Corporation previously charged the committee—a student-faculty group that discusses undergraduate social life—with regularly reviewing the College’s penalties and submitting “periodic, interim reports” to Faculty members and administrators about the sanctions.

The Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, also mandated a comprehensive review of the penalties, set to take place in five years.

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At the meeting Thursday, the committee began to discuss what these reports and this review might look like. Much of the meeting centered on gathering input from committee members on three questions in particular, which attendees wrote and pasted on the wall: (1) “In 5 years, what does success look like?” (2) “How will we measure the evolution of the UG experience?” (3) “What data do we need?”

Committee members then wrote their answers on sticky notes and pasted the notes on the wall underneath the relevant questions.

Answering the first question, some members responded that one example of five-year success would comprise a reduction in what they called the unequal benefits students derive from single-gender social groups—specifically, networking opportunities. In particular, attendees said they think clubs foster “face time” between undergraduate members and prominent alumni unavailable to non-members.

Others said they think the College should add alumni networking events within Harvard’s 12 residential Houses to better meet this need, currently filled in part by the clubs.

Near the beginning of the meeting, several members of the committee said they are concerned the policy will not apply to the Undergraduate Council or to The Crimson—a development detailed in Thursday’s implementation plan.

In response, Dean of Students Katherine G. O’Dair, who helped lead the meeting, pointed to the view—previously espoused by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana—that the UC and The Crimson are different from other student organizations in “fundamental ways,” as Khurana wrote in a May 2017 letter.

“They are the primary forums through which students can hold the College accountable and, in the case of the UC, through which students can advocate for change,” Khurana wrote in that letter. “These important functions have long been recognized by the Faculty as deserving special consideration, as evidenced by the unique privileges extended to them.”

Undergraduate Council President Catherine L. Zhang ’19, who attended the meeting, said “it was really interesting thinking about what Harvard could look like” in the context of the finalized social group policy and implementation plan.

“The idea is how do we shift our thinking, when we’re here at the College, so that students here are not so focused on the exclusivity, or so focused on what is happening particularly within the walls of Harvard,” Zhang said.

“You see those conversations shifting now,” she added.

—Staff writer William S. Flanagan can be reached at will.flanagan@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @willflan21.

—Staff writer Katherine E. Wang can be reached at katie.wang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @katherineewang.

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