Harvard’s chapter of the Delta Gamma sorority is closing its doors — making it the first single-gender group to shut down in response to the College’s social group penalties.
The national Delta Gamma organization announced the move in a press release Thursday and explicitly cited the sanctions as the impetus for the decision.
The College’s policy, which took effect with the Class of 2021, bars members of single-gender final clubs, fraternities, and sororities from holding leadership positions in recognized student groups, captaining varsity athletic teams, and receiving College endorsement for a number of prestigious fellowships.
“We respect the chapter’s decision and understand that the University’s sanctions resulted in an environment in which Delta Gamma could not thrive,” Wilma Johnson Wilbanks, Delta Gamma’s national president, wrote in a press release. “We sincerely hope this changes in the future.”
The national group’s vote came after the Cambridge Area Zeta Phi chapter of the sorority, the group active on Harvard’s campus, voted to “relinquish its charter” in May, per the press release. The Fraternity Council, the group’s governing body, then unanimously voted to accept the Cambridge chapter’s request to close.
While Delta Gamma is the first group to close in response to the sanctions, other single-gender social groups have made fundamental changes to club policies — including membership composition — to avoid the College’s penalties.
Last week, Harvard’s chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta announced it would go gender-neutralin the fall, disaffiliating with its national organization. In January, the previously all-female sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma became the co-ed Fleur-de-Lis.
In the fall of 2017, formerly all-male fraternities Kappa Sigma and Alpha Epsilon Phi left their national organizations to become the co-ed clubs the KS and Aleph, respectively. The Oak Club, Sablière Society, Seneca, and Spee Club have also chosen to give up their single-gender membership policies over the past three years.
Delta Gamma’s decision to close represents an about-face from its earlier position, when the group defiantly announced this spring that it did not plan to adopt major changes in response to the sanctions.
After the Harvard Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, chose to adopt the sanctions in Dec. 2017 — marking the conclusion of nearly two years of doubts and debate — the group joined sororities Kappa Alpha Theta and Alpha Phi in signing a statement announcing all three groups would continue to hold all-female recruitment in the spring of 2018.
Interest in sorority rush, however, sank to an historic low this past academic year. The number of College students aiming to join sorority recruitment in the spring fell by approximately 60 percent from previous years. The 2018 rush marked the first time the sanctions affected some sorority hopefuls.
The potential impact of the College’s sanctions on all-female social groups at Harvard has been a topic of controversy for years. In March, College administrators announced they would not pursue a previously proposed “bridge” program that would have allowed traditionally all-female social groups a longer period of time to transition to gender-neutral membership.
Instead, Harvard announced that it would allocate resources and personnel — including the Harvard College Women’s Center — specifically to help women’s groups make the move to co-ed status.
In a statement, Harvard spokesperson Rachael Dane did not directly respond to Delta Gamma’s comments about the College’s sanctions.
“Harvard College seeks to build a community in which every student can thrive, and it does so on the foundation of a set of shared values including belonging, inclusion, and non-discrimination,” Dane wrote. “The policy on Unrecognized Single-Gender Social Organizations (USGSO) is designed to dedicate resources to those organizations that are advancing principles of inclusivity, while offering them supportive pathways as they transform into organizations that align with the educational philosophy, mission, and values of the College.”
Dane added that University administrators view the policy as necessary to protect inclusivity on campus.
Then-University President Drew G. Faust and William F. Lee ’72, Senior Fellow of the Corporation, wrote in Dec. 2017 that single-gender social groups “stand in the way of our ability to provide a fully challenging and inclusive educational experience to the diverse students currently on our campus.”
In the press release, Wilbanks wrote she hopes the “conditions for single-gender organizations improve” in Cambridge and that, under those circumstances, it is the national Delta Gamma organization’s “sincere hope” to reopen a chapter in Cambridge.
“This decision does not mean that we are succumbing to the University’s new sanctions and policies regarding participation in unrecognized single-gender organizations like ours,” she wrote. “We will continue to champion our right to exist on campuses everywhere. We believe the value of sorority is too great.”
Margaret W. Wilson ’19, president of Harvard’s Delta Gamma chapter, declined to further comment on the group’s decision to close, referring reporters to the national organization’s press release.
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