GWU Modifying Draft Policy Banning Single-Sex Student Organizations

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GWU Modifying Draft Policy Banning Single-Sex Fraternities and Sororities; But Many Single-Sex Student Organizations Would Still Be Prohibited 

WASHINGTON, D.C.  (May 28, 2019) – The George Washington University [GWU] is reportedly modifying its proposed new policy, which would have prohibited all single-sex student organizations including fraternities and sororities.

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But even with this new narrow exception, the new policy could still affect GWU's male and female club teams, as well as organizations which would be protected under the First Amendment's freedom of expressive association at all state universities, reports public interest law professor John Banzhaf of GWU.

As originally reported by the Washington Examiner, "Campus administrators at the George Washington University are considering amending a series of policies related to discrimination and governing of student organizations on campus that could soon make it impossible for single-sex student organizations to exist. . . .  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."  They would all have to become frasororities. he quipped.

But under pressure from alumni, national organizations, students and others, GWU has reportedly agreed to amend its proposed new policy to specifically exempt recognized fraternities and sororities from its no-single-sex-student-organization rule.  But that would still leave many student organizations at risk of being disbanded if they did not agree, presumably reluctantly, to go coed.

For example, GWU has many single-sex student organizations which are sports clubs.  Thus, even with the modification, it would appear that single-sex student organizations such as the Women's Volleyball sports club, the Men's Basketball sports club, and many others would be prohibited.

Similarly, organizations associated with and representing fraternities and sororities - such as the Panhellenic Association [which represents almost 32% of the undergraduate female population at GWU] and the Interfraternity Council [which represents hundreds of men in some 16 fraternities] - presumably would have to become coed under the clear mandatory language of the proposed rule, even though social fraternities and sororities are exempted, since neither is a recognized social fraternity or sorority.

Thus it might seem strange that an organization such as the Panhellenic Association which represents women in single-sex sororities would have to also have male members, or that the Interfraternity Council which represents all-male fraternities would have to have female members.

Finally, the proposed new policy, even amended, would still include in its no-single-sex rule some student organization having no relationship to Greek life, but nevertheless limited to a single sex.

These include, for example, the Black Women's Forum, the Bipartisan Women's Supper Club, and the Black Men's Initiative. Ironically, these are exactly the type of groups which would be protected under the First Amendment's guarantee of Freedom of Expressive Association, at least at state schools.

The wording of this revised policy is particularly important because a federal court recently  held that GWU is legally bound by its published policies and that courts will enforce them, even if GWU doesn't want its policies to be legally binding, and claims that they shouldn't be.

For example, even if GWU didn't intend to ban single-sex teams, a judge could still hold - in a suit brought, for example, by a disgruntled male volleyball player - that men cannot be excluded from playing on its current women's volleyball club team, suggests Banzhaf.


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  @profbanzhaf

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