In the days after the Yale College Dean’s Office suspended the entire Society of Orpheus and Bacchus a cappella group from fall rush for a series of pranks orchestrated by just one member of the group, the singing community has rallied around the punished members and requested greater transparency from administrative decision makers.
One hundred and four current and former students signed an open letter to Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway calling for more information about why the administration decided to sanction the entire group for the actions of one individual. That individual had asked a friend of a friend to audition for three other all-male a cappella groups under a fake name and leave various dead animal parts at each audition: a deer’s head for the Spizzwinks(?), and dead mice for the Alley Cats and the Duke’s Men. The letter was written on Sept. 9 by Laurel Lehman ’17, a member of the a cappella group Proof of the Pudding, two days after the Singing Group Council — a group of four people who oversee the rush process — announced that the YCDO had pulled the SOBs from rush. The letter included signatures from members from all 15 groups in the Singing Group Council as well as other unaffiliated groups, such as Magevet and Sur et Veritaal.
In addition to reiterating many of the concerns raised by a cappella members immediately after the YCDO’s decision was announced — that suspension from rush would disrupt the SOBs’ long traditions, hurt its future recruitment prospects and exclude talented freshmen from the a cappella community — the letter also asked for more answers as to how the punishment was decided. This was important, the letter noted, because the Singing Group Council’s original announcement had made clear that the pranks were orchestrated by one member of the SOBs without the assistance of anyone else in the group.
“As a community, we would appreciate clarification as to how this decision was reached, and humbly ask that some sort of alternative be considered for the group,” the letter said.
In an interview Thursday morning, Holloway acknowledged the dissatisfaction with the decision but said the ban on fall rush for the group will stand.
The call for transparency was echoed in the comments of many who signed the letter. The letter was originally publicly viewable through an emailed link but was later made private. Lehman declined to share the names and comments, citing the letter as an “intra-community effort.”
One female student who signed the letter but requested anonymity said that while the perpetrator deserves to face consequences, the rest of the group should only be punished if Yale has evidence of wider involvement amongst its members.
Hannah Peck, assistant dean of student affairs, did not return multiple requests for comment regarding the rationale behind the decision. Signees also suggested that the workings of the a cappella community, and the implications of the temporary rush ban, may not have been fully familiar to decision makers.
“Banning them from rush for one year may seem like a short-term punishment, but in reality it could cripple the group in the long-term,” said John Augustine ’18, one of the rush managers of the Baker’s Dozen a cappella group. “And the brunt of the punishment really falls on rushees who had their heart set on the SOBs.”
At the time of the interview with the News, Holloway had not yet received the signed letter, which was delivered Thursday afternoon, but he said he had already received multiple messages about the matter from various students, alumni and the head of the SOBs’ alumni organization.
“No one is happy with what happened,” he said, adding that although he had received requests to allow the group to continue its normal recruitment, the YCDO “won’t do that.”
Grant Fergusson ’17, a member of the Singing Group Council, previously told the News that the council was working to find an alternative way the SOBs could recruit new members, perhaps in the spring, but he acknowledged that such a plan was “optimistic.”.
Still, support for the a cappella community’s letter extended into the student body as well. All 14 students surveyed said they supported the letter. Many agreed that the one SOB directly involved should be punished but cited the “unfair” nature of punishing the whole group.
But Casey Lincoln ’16 did note that multiple factors may have been at play in the YCDO’s decision, and that the group was treading “a fine line.”
“The SOBs should have a culture where these kinds of pranks don’t happen, but they can’t be expected to control everyone in the group — and one person making a mistake doesn’t reflect their culture,” she said. “It’s a fine line, but I support the SOBs because this punishment will impact their long-term process. They should have a new class.”