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Harvard Responds To Discrimination Lawsuit

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Rebecca Ramos, a former Delta Gamma chapter president at Harvard, speaks at a press conference about a pair of lawsuits arguing Harvard's sanctions against single-gender groups are unlawful.
Kirk Carapezza/WGBH News

Updated on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 5:15 p.m.

Harvard is reacting to discrimination lawsuits filed Monday by a group of sororities and fraternities.

The plaintiffs say Harvard's new policy barring members of single-sex clubs from holding campus leadership roles or pursuing certain scholarships is unconstitutional and amounts to gender discrimination.

In a statement, spokeswoman Rachael Dane said Harvard remains committed to the policy, which, she says, is designed to support organizations that "advance principles of inclusivity" and "align with the educational philosophy, mission, and values of the College."

Dean Rakesh Khurana, who oversaw development of the policy and is named in the lawsuits, declined to comment.

Recently-appointed President Larry Bacow has said that if prospective students don't like the policy, they should apply elsewhere.

A coalition of sororities, fraternities and individual students is suing Harvard University over its sanctions against single-gender social groups.

Harvard's current policy, which went into effect this year, bars members of single-gender student clubs, like Greek organizations and final clubs, from leadership positions on campus and certain prestigious scholarships.

Plaintiffs filed two separate lawsuits Monday, one in federal court and one in state court. The federal suit — filed by sororities Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, fraternities Sigma Chi, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and the local chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and three unnamed students who are members of male clubs — claim the sanctions violate Title IX and amount to sex-based discrimination.

The three unnamed plaintiffs want Harvard to revoke this policy and pay them an undisclosed amount of money.

The state suit — filed by sororities Delta Gamma and Alpha Phi, along with the Cambridge chapter of Alpha Phi — claim the policy violates the Massachusetts constitution and the state's civil rights act by not allowing students to freely associate and denying their right to equal treatment based on sex.

Speaking at a press conference Monday with lawyers and representatives for the fraternities and sororities, Rebecca Ramos, a 2017 graduate of Harvard and a former chapter president of Delta Gamma, said the sanctions blocked students from pursuing valuable support systems.

"The women in my sorority gave me an opportunity to lead and a space where I could be vulnerable," she said. "The support I received as a sorority member was what allowed me to be an engaged, confident student. This support, these opportunities and this choice to belong to a group of my female peers have now been taken away."

Ramos said the policy has created a "culture of fear." She said members have been questioned in interviews for law schools and fellowships about their views on the sanctions, which she says has made students worried about expressing support for fraternities, sororities and other single-gender groups.

"They're very proud of these organizations, but they're worried about potential implications from the university," she said.

Emma Quinn-Judge, a lawyer with Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in the state suit, said Harvard has also taken away a gathering place for Delta Gamma members called "The Cove."

"Harvard has taken away these women's-only spaces that students had access to for so long," she said. "Spaces in which they could form communities, share their values, share their messages and bond as sisters."

Stanton Jones, a lawyer from Arnold and Porter, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in the federal suit, said Harvard's policy punishes both men and women.

"These sororities, fraternities and students are committed to ending Harvard's campaign of discrimination and restoring the ability of every Harvard student to find his or her own way," he said. "A place to call his or her own, including if that's a sorority, a fraternity or a final club."

Harvard was not immediately available to comment.

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