Single-Sex Fraternities, Sororities Could Be Banned At GWU

“Harvard on the Potomac” Could Follow the Lead of Harvard University in banning Single-Sex Fraternities

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (Dec. 24, 2018) – The former president of George Washington University [GWU] frequently referred to his institution as the “Harvard on the Potomac,” and it looks like GWU is about to follow the Harvard on the Charles regarding single-sex fraternities, sororities, and other student organizations, including even single-gender musical groups, and even go a big step further.

George Washington University Single-Sex Fraternities

By Ingfbruno (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In 2016 Harvard made it very difficult and burdensome for its single-sex organizations, even those not on campus, to recruit any new members, reportedly in an effort to reduce sexual assaults which are often linked to fraternities.  Only now is it being sued for this step, based on claims that this policy is “sexist in the extreme,” and violates Title IX.

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Now, according to several different analyses, GWU may go even further, banning - rather than simply discouraging - single-sex organizations including not only traditional-male fraternities and traditional-female sororities, but even advocacy organizations such as GWU's Black Women's Forum and GWU's Black Men's Initiative.

However, at GWU the change would not be part of a plan to reduce sexual assaults as it was at Harvard, but rather would result either from inadvertence, or from a desire to eliminate all vestiges of the double standard, and any differences in treatment between men and women.

Under new proposed guidelines, "failing or refusing to allow an individual to participate in a student organization or activity based on their protected characteristics" would be considered discrimination, and lead to shutting down the organization.

More importantly, GWU would add to the "protected characteristics" - which now include factors such as "race" - "sex, gender and gender identity or expression."

Two different analyses have thus suggested that such a policy would go far beyond what Harvard has done.  As one put it, "under the proposed addition of gender as a protected characteristic, the new rules could make it impossible for all-female sororities and all-male fraternities to exist."

Even at Harvard, with its less strict policy, groups affected include the 120-year-old all-female Radcliffe Choral Society and the 160-year-old all-male Harvard Glee Club, the oldest college chorus in America.  Also at risk might be all male barbershop quartets, and "all girl" hip hop and rock groups.

GWU's faculty and administration are generally seen as quite liberal, notes Banzhaf, so it is possible that the University will insist upon these changes as a necessary step towards inclusiveness, and of the elimination of any different treatment based upon gender.

It has already determined, for example, that roommates need not be of the same anatomical gender, and it has an all-gender multi-user restroom which allows men and women to relieve themselves at the same time in the same room.

On the other hand, he adds, traditional single-sex fraternities and sororities are a very important and attractive aspect of student life at GWU, so there would be strong opposition to these fundamental changes from both current students, and from alums who were members of Greek organizations at GWU.

Thus these changes could adversely affect alumni financial and other support, as well as lead to a decline in applications from students who would otherwise wish to attend GWU, but who also would like to participate in the Greek scene by joining a fraternity or sorority.

Whether GWU will move ahead with these changes despite these consequences, or back down in the face of strong opposition, remains to be seen, argues Prof. Banzhaf.

http://banzhaf.net/ jbanzhaf3ATgmail.com  @profbanzhaf



About the Author

JOHN F. BANZHAF
JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D. Professor of Public Interest Law George Washington University Law School, FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor, Fellow, World Technology Network, Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) 2000 H Street, NW, Wash, DC 20052, USA (202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418 http://banzhaf.net/ jbanzhaf@law.gwu.edu