The Delta Gamma sorority at Harvard University has chosen to disband rather than become coed, a move that comes after the school instituted a policy that members of single-gender student social groups would be barred from campus leadership positions and opportunities for fellowships, the Harvard Crimson reported.
Members of the non-defunct Zeta Phi chapter, which was established on the campus in 1994, have since formed a new coed group, Kali Praxi, which means "good dead" in Greek, according to recent graduate Basia Rosenbaum.
In a statement, Delta Gamma president Wilma Johnson Wilbanks said,“This decision does not mean that we are succumbing to the University’s new sanctions and policies regarding participation in unrecognised single-gender organisations like ours. We will continue to champion our right to exist on campuses everywhere. We believe the value of sorority is too great."
So far, two Harvard sororities, Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, have chosen to go gender-neutral.
Harvard's policy, the Washington Post notes, comes not long after a report that detailed sexual harassment, assault, and "deeply misogynistic attitudes" within all-male clubs at the prestigious school. And while the approach is aimed at combatting the ills of Greek life, many say it is actually placing the blame for sexual assault and harassment on women and harming women's empowerment efforts on campus.
Chloe Safier, a gender specialist (who received a master's degree from Harvard) told Refinery29 that the school's decision to force social groups to be co-ed is not really addressing the issues at hand. "Banning sororities and fraternities is by no means adequate as a sole response to the deeply entrenched problem of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault on college campuses," she said.
Saifer added that even if these groups are integrated, it does not change the culture on college campuses that still caters to "white, straight, cis men. Women, trans, and non-binary folks are often shut out or voiceless in spaces that aren’t designated for them. Women-only spaces (meaning woman-identified, and inclusive of trans women) will continue to be relevant as long as we have laws, policies, and social norms that [affect] individuals on the basis of their gender."
Jordin Pettit, a Delta Gamma sister and student at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Conner School of Law said that while "there are definitely changes that need to be made in the Greek system," she doesn't think forcing organisations to be coed will solve the problems of diversity.
"Delta Gamma was a safe space for me to express myself, grow as a leader and person, and achieve my highest academic potential," Pettit, who was not speaking on behalf of Delta Gamma, told Refinery29. "Sororities aren’t perfect, and I’ll admit that there are many problems in Greek life. However, I do not see how adding fraternity men to our all women’s group, would solve that problem. Sexual harassment is a very important an issue that needs to be addressed within the Greek community. But forcing us into closer situations with men absolutely does not help the issue."
Kellie Sanchez, a member of Delta Gamma and senior at Loyola University New Orleans, told Refinery29 that if her school instituted a similar policy at her school, she believes it would have an adverse effect on student life. "As someone who went to an all-girls high school, having a supportive group of women when I was a freshman in college made a huge difference," Sanchez said. "The older members showed me the way and were role models and really wanted to be my friend."
To Safier, Greek organisations have the opportunities to become agents of change on college campuses — but that won't be done by forcing organisations to be gender neutral or banning them outright.
"If Greek organisations became a place where people could examine and unlearn toxic and restrictive gender boundaries, in an environment that allowed for safe and respectful self-expression, it could offer its members a chance to positively transform their views on gender at a critical moment in their social development," Safier told Refinery29. "Think of the tidal wave of change that could bring."
Refinery29 has reached out to Delta Gamma for further comment and will update this story when we hear back.