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Harvard sorority to close in response to policy on single-gender clubs

The Johnston Gate at Harvard Yard.
The Johnston Gate at Harvard Yard.CRAIG F. WALKER/GLOBE STAFF

A national sorority has announced that its Harvard University chapter will close, in what appears to be the first dissolution of a student organization in response to the Ivy League school’s adoption two years ago of penalties for members of single-gender student clubs.

The Zeta Phi-Cambridge Area chapter of the Delta Gamma organization voted in May to relinquish its charter, and after a 60-day comment period, leaders of the national organization voted unanimously to close the chapter, according to a statement.

A Delta Gamma spokeswoman and leaders of the Harvard chapter could not be reached for comment Sunday evening.


The closing, which was first reported in the Harvard Crimson, comes as the result of a Harvard policy that punishes students who join single-gender clubs, fraternities, and sororities by barring them from leading campus organizations and sports teams and from receiving recommendations from the dean for prestigious Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.

Harvard adopted the policy in May 2016 in an attempt to address issues raised by elite all-male final clubs, which administrators have blamed for rowdy parties that have led to underage drinking and sexual assault, and for fostering a divisive culture.

A university committee’s review found that final clubs and other such exclusive organizations create a “pernicious” influence on undergraduate life, according to a report from the panel.

Last fall, Harvard considered adopting a more stringent policy that would have effectively banned single-gender clubs by requiring the suspension or expulsion of club members, but it backed off that change after a firestorm of criticism from students, alumni, and free-speech advocates.

In the statement issued by Delta Gamma, the organization’s national president was critical of Harvard’s policy.

“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,” Wilma Johnson Wilbanks said. “We will continue to champion our right to exist on campuses everywhere. We believe the value of sorority is too great.”


Wilbanks thanked the chapter’s members and alumnae “for the courage they have shown throughout the last several years” and said the leadership of national organization understands that the controversial Harvard policy “resulted in an environment in which Delta Gamma could not thrive.”

“We sincerely hope this changes in the future,” she added.

The Zeta Phi chapter of Delta Gamma was founded in 1994 and has initiated 781 members in its nearly 24-year history, according to the statement.

In December, it was one of three sororities — along with Alpha Phi and Kappa Alpha Theta — that told Harvard they would ignore its penalties and continue to recruit new members.

“These sanctions unfairly force women to choose between the opportunity to have supportive, empowering female-only spaces and external leadership opportunities,” the organizations said in a statement then.

A Harvard spokeswoman, Rachael Dane, declined to comment on Delta Gamma’s closing but pointed to a statement from the university on the goal behind its policy.

“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,” the Harvard statement says.

“The policy . . . 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,” it continues.


The policy was adopted under previous Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust. President Lawrence Bacow expressed support for that policy in February when his selection was first announced.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the current status of Harvard’s club policy.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.