by Carole Jurenko Jones, Alpha Delta (U of Alabama), 2017-2019 NPC Chairman
More than 235 fraternity and sorority members, both alumni and students, were on Capitol Hill on April 25 advocating for sororities and fraternities and the value they provide to our members. Our organizations’ values of character and dignity guide our members in their daily lives as they serve their campus and local communities.
Each year since 2002, the Fraternal Government Relations Coalition (FGRC), which is a collaborative effort between the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC), Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (FSPAC) and Fraternity and Sorority Action Fund (FSAF), has lobbied in Washington, D.C., to educate legislators on the value of sororities and fraternities and the advocacy issues important to NPC and NIC.
The FGRC represents 92 single-sex fraternities and sororities nationwide with more than 800,000 undergraduate members at over 9,500 chapters on nearly 700 campuses, as well as more than 9.1 million alumni. The NPC and NIC set and execute the advocacy agenda for the FGRC. This year’s lobbying efforts, with more than 460 meetings between fraternity/sorority members and legislators or their staff members, focused on the value of the fraternity/sorority experience and our priorities for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA).
This topic directly aligns with Pillar One of the NPC Government Relations Platform: Preservation of the sorority experience.
Working together with the NIC, FSPAC and FSAF, our goal is to gain support for protection of our experience through the reauthorization of the HEA. Our members have a constitutional right to freely assemble and associate, but there is a growing trend to punish single-sex organizations for existing by creating barriers and/or penalizing students who join such organizations. Harvard University is just one example as that institution is now blacklisting students who choose to join single-sex social organizations and seeks to force groups to become co-ed against their will. The Harvard policy affects this year’s freshman class and all future students, penalizing those who join single-sex organizations by rendering them ineligible for leadership positions in recognized student organizations, selection as a sports team captain and the Dean’s endorsement for a Rhodes, Marshall or Fulbright scholarship, where such an endorsement is a prerequisite for consideration.
But, it’s not just Harvard that is seeking new ways to restrict freedom of association rights. It has become increasingly common for institutions of higher education to regulate and propose policies aimed at forcing single-sex social organizations to become co-ed or imposing burdensome policies and restrictions that undermine a student’s right to freely associate. Examples include blanket suspensions for all sororities and fraternities on a campus when one student or one organization is accused of misconduct and the adoption of operational restrictions that don’t apply to any other student organization on campus, such as not allowing first semester or first year students to choose to join a sorority or fraternity.
The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has taken the first step to protect every student’s freedom of association rights, including with single-sex social organizations. The committee’s HEA reauthorization bill – the PROSPER Act – includes language on this issue, but does not address or prevent actions taken by Harvard or a few other campuses that do not already recognize single-sex organizations.
That was our task on April 25 – to encourage House members to perfect the pending language in the PROSPER Act to include all students and to ask senators to include this same language in their own HEA reauthorization bill.
The value of protecting our single-sex experience now and for generations to come cannot be understated. Our organizations create a unique community of support. They are the one place on a college campus, where through a shared single-sex experience, young women or men can enjoy a sense of belonging, empowerment and personal development. NPC and NIC are committed to continuing to advocate for freedom of association rights for our organizations, and we invite you to join us by contacting your representatives here.