At a time when many traditional institutions and practices are being questioned, some pushback is to be expected. This was true when Harvard, one of the United States’ oldest institutions of higher education, took the bold step to crack down on fraternities and sororities.
In an effort to tackle misbehavior at unrecognized single-gender organizations, e.g. fraternities and sororities, Harvard enacted a policy which prohibits members of these organizations from many student leadership roles. This prohibition ranged from being captain of varsity teams to receiving certain scholarships.
In a 2016 letter to the university dean, then-President Drew Gilpin Faust joined the movement against single-gender organizations.
Faust recognized that the school should not completely remove students right to chose to belong to these organizations. However, he also acknowledged that Harvard has a responsibility to be selective in who it allows to “represent the College.”
“Especially as it seeks to break down structural barriers to an effectively inclusive campus,” wrote Faust, “the College is right to ensure that the areas in which it provides resources and endorsement advance and reinforce its values of non-discrimination.”
Faust concluded, “By reinforcing core principles of non-discrimination and inclusion, the recommendations of the College represent an important next step in our ongoing progress toward that goal.”
However, one Harvard alumn, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ07), disagrees with his alma mater’s recent decision and has chosen to voice his opposition through congressional legislation.
H.R. 3128, the Collegiate Freedom of Association Act, would protect members of single-sex social organizations from actions similar to Harvard’s policy.
Gallego’s bill would protect members of “single-sex social organizations” from school actions similar to the policies enacted by Harvard by amending title I the Higher Education Act of 1965 to include protections for students to join such organizations and protection from retaliation by the school for being members of such an organization.
In an emailed statement reported by The Harvard Crimson, Gallego cited his own experience in a fraternity at Harvard as part of his reason for sponsoring H.R. 3128.
“All Americans have a constitutional right to freedom of association, and this legislation merely reinforces these rights for students enrolled in college,” he wrote in the email. “I have personally benefited from opportunities to form life-long friends at Harvard University as a member of Sigma Chi, and that support system helped me through difficult times after I returned from the Iraq war.”
The bill is co-sponsored by 11 Republicans and 7 Democrats, including Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ02).
The Collegiate Freedom of Association Act was introduced to the House on June 5 and was referred to the Committee on Education and Labor. No other actions have been taken since it was introduced.