Harvard fraternity breaks from national organisation to go gender-neutral

A Harvard fraternity has announced it will accept women for the first time ever, as it becomes a gender-neutral group.

AEPi, a traditionally Jewish organisation, has been forced to disassociate from its national organisation after taking the decision in order to “create a more equitable social scene” at the university.

Harvard recently told organisations to stop being single-sex groups or face sanctions.

Undergraduate members of groups who don’t comply will be prohibited from taking up certain leadership positions, sports captaincies and postgraduate fellowships.

AEPi is the first to alter its rules since the university’s announcement in May.

In a letter to other students at Harvard, the fraternity admitted that “the announcement of the sanctions certainly spurred our decision,” but said its decision was in accordance with its long-held values.

“We believe that the sanctions threaten our long-term existence, including our ability to recruit potential members who are involved and interested in a diverse range of activities and pursuits, as we always have.

But, AEPi said, “we have always placed far more emphasis on being a supportive and welcoming community than an all-male one.

“We have long held that a student’s socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, race, or religion should not bar participation in our rush process.

“In keeping with these values, we believe that a student’s gender should not stand in the way either.”

The statement said leaving the national AEPi organisation was “not what we wanted,” adding that they had hoped the national group “would recognise us breaking down the discriminatory barriers to joining our chapter.”

Chapter president Jake Ascher told university newspaper The Harvard Crimson that his group’s members first discussed the prospect of going gender neutral in May, just after the sanctions were announced.

He said that meeting largely decided the chapter’s future course.

“From then it seemed already inevitable that we would eventually make that change,” Ascher said.

He added that fellow AEPi members’ “willingness and desire” to go gender-neutral had made the change inevitable.

Harvard accepted a trans student on to its men’s swimming team in 2015, though this progressive step was somewhat tainted by the revelation that the men’s football team had a history of rating and recording how attractive their female counterparts were.

After the men were suspended for the offence, the women’s team expressed their disgust that “men who are supposed to be our brothers degrade us like this.”