Bach: Crimson Alert

by Jinsung Bach | 5/9/16 5:30pm

Scarcely two weeks have passed since my April 11 column “O’er The Land of the Free,” in which I took great relish in mocking our colleagues at Harvard University for referring to an American flag as an “unacceptable political statement.” I made my jabs with the understanding that this was, in many ways, a new low for academia. After all, who could have ever imagined that an Ivy League institution — in fact, to many the quintessential Ivy League institution — would lay claim to such diabolical self-censorship?

Unfortunately, I was mistaken, as it seems the Harvard administration has taken matters to yet another extreme. The Harvard Crimson reports that, effective with the Class of 2021, members of unrecognized single-gender organizations will be banned from holding athletic team captaincies, leadership positions in recognized student groups or top fellowships at Harvard. This would affect membership not only in Greek houses, but also in finals clubs — exclusive undergraduate social clubs at Harvard. In essence, this places a ban on Greek house membership as it forces students to choose between the University and these social organizations.

Harvard President Drew G. Faust has defended this move as necessary, insisting that “Although the fraternities, sororities and final clubs are not formally recognized by the College, they play an unmistakable and growing role in student life, in many cases enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values.” This follows a suggestion made in a closed-door meeting in mid-April by Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana, who first floated the idea of sanctioning such organizations.

Before proceeding, I must first extend my most sincere congratulations to President Faust and Dean Khurana for exceeding all my expectations. I had never expected to see such a level of buffoonery outside of our own administration at Dartmouth, but they have surpassed anything I have seen here. So for now I can direct my attention to Harvard once again, conscience clean in my knowledge that we are, at the very least, not yet home to such failed policies.

The Harvard administration’s actions are symptomatic of a fundamental failure of accountability. Faced with increased scrutiny amidst allegations of sexual assault on campus, the Harvard administration is eager to shift the blame away from itself. Despite its own failures to support students coming forth with rape accusations or to hold perpetrators responsible for their own actions, the administration hopes to make a scapegoat of single-sex organizations and absolve itself of any blame. These motions scarcely need further commentary, but allow me to name it for what it really is — cowardice.

Alas, if only that were the end of it. Our colleagues at the Harvard Crimson have not only taken such policies in stride, but they also have the gall to suggest that such sanctions ought to be exclusive to male-only clubs. In its May 6 editorial “The Need for Nuance,” The Crimson Editorial Board claims “male final clubs are remarkably different in character” and that “precisely because of the potentially hostile environments created by the male clubs, it is crucial that our campus have places for women to bond.”

Thus the problem is not only with an administration’s cowardly attempts to shift blame to a third party. No, the problem is also with the students themselves. It is certainly bad enough when students are eager to accept such oversight as necessary, to stand and watch as their own rights are taken away in the name of safety. It is far, far worse when they decide that such oversight should target one gender in particular and leave the other unscathed. With this crooked position comes the subtle threat to tar dissenters with the label of “victim-blamers” — after all, says the Editorial Board, you wouldn’t want to be an apologist for rapists, would you? Surely anyone who believes in equal rights must agree that women must be allowed to feel safe.

On this, I wholeheartedly agree. Women are entirely endowed to feel safe on campus. Women should be free to engage in their academic and personal pursuits free of sexual intimidation. However, this does not excuse the fallacy that victimization endows privilege of any kind. The Editorial Board would have you believe that women, by virtue of historical victimization at the hands of men, are allowed an exemption from rules that their male counterparts must follow. But this is incompatible with the notion that all students are given the same rights irrespective of gender, because it suggests that one gender holds responsibilities that the other gender does not.

If men and women are entitled to the same rights, as the Editorial Board correctly suggests, then they must hold the same responsibilities as well. As goes the oft-repeated American maxim, freedom is not free. Therefore, if both men and women are equally free, then so too must they both pay their equal dues. Equal responsibility for equal students is not a novel concept, nor is it victim-blaming in any sense of the word. Instead of directing its attention to the individuals responsible for sexual assault, the Editorial Board demonizes an entire gender based on nothing more than a bloated sense of privilege.

If the Harvard student body truly wishes to address the issue of sexual assault on their campus, then they must address the core failures of accountability at the highest echelons of their university. Individuals must be held accountable for their actions, and punished to the full extent of Harvard’s established regulations. The administration, likewise, must take responsibility even in the face of potential humiliation. For the administration to shift the blame to a third party and for the student body to happily accept such unwarranted scapegoating is a failure on two fronts. The only possible outcome of this dual failure is hostility between students, further distrust of the administration and the jeering mockery of an entire nation.

As a Dartmouth student, I can only hope that our own school will not fall into the same trap of failed accountability, though given the current climate on campus it is a fear that keeps me up at night. For now, though, this voice crying out in the wilderness mourns the death of accountability at Harvard.