Harvard Group Under Fire for Alleged Discrimination
Opinion Column in Crimson Prompts Undergraduate Council to Suspend Funding, University InvestigatingBy Alice Suh
A Christian student group at Harvard may lose its recognition after an op-ed article in the Harvard Crimson accused the group of discriminatory practices.
The Harvard Undergraduate Council has also postponed legislation that would have granted funds for the group, the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship (HRCF), and the group is currently under investigation by the Harvard administration.
According to a Crimson op-ed article written by Jason Lurie, a member of the student legislature, HRCF violates Harvard’s non-discrimination policy because “unless a student is Christian, he or she may not be an officer of HRCF. This rule is indisputably discriminatory.”
Lurie is also the Vice-President of communications for the Harvard Secular Society. He said he did not believe being a member biased his opinion. “If anything, it’s more fair for someone who’s on the receiving end of discrimination to talk about it,” he said.
Fellowship reacts to allegations
Lara Buchak, a member of HRCF’s executive board, said, “I do think the objection Lurie makes goes against the purpose of student groups and is discriminatory against religious groups.”
Buchak also said she that she does not “think we should take out the clause” that requires leaders to be Christian.
Both Lurie and Buchak said that they would wait for administrators to end their investigation and make a decision. Buchak also said if students disagreed with the university’s decision to support HRCF, they had the option of not paying the $35 student group fee.
“We’ve been meeting with the university and they seem approving of us and desiring of our continued presence,” Buchak said.
Lurie defines discrimination
Lurie made a distinction between de facto discrimination and institutional discrimination. “HRCF is very explicit,” Lurie said. “If you are not Christian, [you cannot be a leader]. ... They list these articles of faith. If you don’t agree, [you cannot become an officer]. That’s an institutional problem.”
Although other groups, such as the College Democrats or the Catholic Students’ Group, will most likely end up with Democrat or Catholic leaders, Lurie said “that’s just incidental.” He said he supported student members choosing people they think will do the best job.
Even if HRCF officially adopted a non-discrimination clause, “I still have concerns [that there would be] a nod-and-a-wink discrimination,” he said.
He said he would expect, for example, the tango dancing group to have officers who enjoy and promote tango dancing. “At the same time, if the tango dancing group said, you’re disabled, you can’t join, you can’t be a leader,” that would be discrimination, he said.
Buchak said that “there haven’t been any specific instances that anyone felt discriminated against. It’s not like someone [who was not Christian] wanted a leadership position but was denied a chance.”
Lurie said that HRCF’s charter had only recently been challenged since “people on the council who were supposed to doing their job maybe weren’t doing their jobs.” In the past, Lurie said, the council did not focus on religious discrimination because they were more worried about gender discrimination issues, such as ROTC policy.
“I would say it’s only because of Jason Lurie,” Buchak said.
Lurie previously under fire
Lurie said he is “the guy who makes the biggest stink” about religious discrimination but that many others also agreed with him. He said that every candidate currently running for council president voted to postpone granting funds for HRCF.
According to a Nov. 18 article in the Crimson, Lurie raised the issue of denying funds to two groups, HRCF and Harvard Asian Baptists Student Koinonia (HABSK). As soon as it was pointed out that HABSK had a non-discriminatory clause in their charter, however, Lurie said he voted for funding.
Buchak said she was worried that Lurie would target other groups if HRCF was denied funding, specifically the Asian-American Christian Fellowship (AACF).
Lurie said he would look into discrimination at other groups. Among those were AACF, as well as Under Construction, Harvard’s Christian a capella group. Under Construction, Lurie said, has “a talent audition, and then they have a faith audition.” In order to become a member, he said, a student would have to profess being a Christian.
MIT faced similar issues
Last year, MIT’s Chinese Student Club was briefly suspended after attempting to require that their officers be Chinese.
Arthur G. Fitzmaurice G, current treasurer of the Association of Student Activities, said, “we immediately suspended [the CSC] and worked out a solution.”
“At MIT, there’s nothing to stop anyone from joining” a student group either as a member or a leader, said Fitzmaurice. The ASA, he said, differs from the Harvard council because “we just like to let itself work itself out,” rather than intervening in groups that have no trouble.
David Von Stroh ’03, a member of the executive board of MIT’s Asian Christian Fellowship, was not sure of the specific restrictions that his group placed on leadership, but said, “I would assume that our constitution is pretty similar to HRCF.” He also said that Lurie “is not understanding why student groups exist. It’s pointless if a student group can’t require that its leaders support its goals.”