An Open Letter to Harvard

Dear Harvard,

While I am extremely proud to be a Harvard graduate, Harvard administrators have disappointed me. After months of contentious discussion, the University announced its policies to address the issues presented by unrecognized single-gender social organizations on campus, including male and female Final Clubs, fraternities and sororities. While I appreciate and wholeheartedly support the administration’s intentions, the policies that the Harvard administration have adopted are an example of inappropriate institutional overreach that blatantly disregards the core values Harvard seeks to instill in its students.

These policies that Harvard have adopted aim to combat the “discriminatory” behavior, which is at odds with Harvard’s “educational philosophy,” that single-gender social organizations promote. Starting with students matriculating in 2017, any student affiliated with such an organization is ineligible to serve in a leadership position of a recognized student group or athletic team, and will be barred from receiving endorsement letters from the Dean for prestigious post-graduate fellowships such as Rhodes and Fulbright Scholarships.

What truly undermine Harvard’s “educational philosophy,” as the controversial social clubs purportedly do, are the actions of the administrators themselves. The stated mission of Harvard’s General Education program is as follows:

1. To prepare students for civic engagement;

2. To teach students to understand themselves as products of, and participants in, traditions of art, ideas, and values;

3. To enable students to respond critically and constructively to change;

4. And to develop students’ understanding of the ethical dimensions of what they say and do.

Rather than creating opportunities for community conversation and cooperation between concerned students and social club members, Harvard administrators have nullified their stated mission. While a combination of student debate, positive peer pressure, problem solving, and some element of public shaming could have encouraged social clubs to recognize and take ownership for their part in questionable and and/or harmful practices, administrators missed a significant opportunity to put their own educational principles in practice. The future identity and policies of unrecognized single-gender student organizations could have been an unparalleled case study for students to apply the core principles taught through Harvard’s lauded General Education curriculum to their own community. If administrators prevent students from living and learning in pursuit of these principles, they are either demonstrating that they do not really believe in the College’s stated mission, or they concede that they have failed to educate their students in a manner that enables them to achieve these goals and embody this higher standard of living.

While I am in full agreement that changes need to be made to foster a safe, welcoming and diverse campus environment, the overreaching and overly aggressive approach is reflective of broader national sentiment. When you eliminate conversation and a meeting of the minds, resentment festers and people flock to more extreme modes of expression. In the political realm, candidates such as Donald Trump represent this type of reactionary, resentful expression. Ironically, in an attempt to distance itself from any questionable associations or activity, Harvard is directly contributing to the aura of resentment off of which populists like Trump feed.

Some universities, such as the University of Chicago, have reaffirmed their commitment to the fundamental principle that universities exist to “provide the conditions within which hard thought, and therefore strong disagreement, independent judgment, and the questioning of stubborn assumptions, can flourish in an environment of the greatest freedom.” It is sad to see that Harvard has veered so severely from its stated core beliefs and missed an important opportunity for true education.

Catherine Katz graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 2013 and is a member of the Eta Theta Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. While at Harvard, Catherine served in a variety of leadership positions on campus, including as Co-Chair of the Quincy House Committee, for which she received the Aloian-Beal Leadership Award. After graduating from Harvard, Catherine received a Masters from the University of Cambridge. Despite her hard work, under the new policies of the Harvard administration, Catherine would have been unfairly barred from the aforementioned leadership positions due to her association with a sorority.

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