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Harvard University Cracks Down on Single-Gender Clubs

Harvard is cracking down on all the university's "finals clubs" and Greek organizations over gender discrimination.

In a statement Friday, President Drew Gilpin Fault said undergrads who participate in unrecognized single-gender groups will not be permitted to hold leadership positions in organizations that are recognized by the college, namely athletic teams and other student groups. Additionally, they will be ineligible for endorsements for prestigious fellowships, including the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

Image: People walk on the campus of Harvard University
People walk near Memorial Church, behind, on the campus of Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. on March 13, 2016. Steven Senne / AP

The move follows months of heated debates on campus about gender discrimination.

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Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who undertook an investigation into the practices, described the tradition of keeping women out of the historically all-male finals clubs a "discriminatory practice" that the college has struggled to deal with since the 19th century.

"Harvard has a long and complex history of grappling with gender discrimination," he said in a statement. "In every era, change has come slowly and often with fierce opposition."

Khurana said the practice of excluding women sends a message that membership in these clubs undermines the values of the college community.

Though the finals clubs and Greek organizations are not formally recognized by Harvard, President Faust noted they played a significant role in student life.

"The college cannot ignore these organizations if it is to advance our shared commitment to broadening opportunity and making Harvard a campus for all of its students," he wrote in a response to Khurana's recommendations. "Nor can it endorse selection criteria that reject much of the student body merely because of gender."

But not all students are on board with the president's decision, notably leaders of the all-female finals clubs.

"We are disappointed Harvard didn't take the time to address the real concerns women have expressed both in numerous conversations with the administration and, most recently, in our op-ed prior to releasing these sanctions," said Eugenia Huh, the legal chair of the Sabliere Society.

In the op-ed, published Thursday in the Harvard student newspaper, The Crimson, Huh along with two other female leaders said that the attention given to make all-male finals clubs co-ed has overlooked the significance of the women's organizations. Though they supported the college's commitment to ensuring safety and equality on campus, they added, "we are deeply worried about the way Harvard is going about this change."

The female leaders argued that making all finals clubs co-ed will put new female members at a disadvantage to their male counterparts. "The leadership structures and alumni bases of these clubs are still all-male, and will remain predominantly so for the next few years, if not decades," reads their letter. Additionally, they say that this movement will cause female clubs to "die out."