Homophobic activities at the men’s tennis team initiation this fall have raised concerns among members of Yale’s LGBT community, a representative of whom met with Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg Monday to discuss how to respond to an event he described as a “terrible joke.”
During dinner on Nov. 10, team members wearing women’s underwear and fishnet stockings posed as members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and entered several residential college dining halls, where they sang and danced on tabletops, students who saw the incident said. The witnesses said the team’s initiates had signs on their backs that read, “I’m a faggot. Insert Here.” The captain of the men’s tennis team could not be reached for comment last night, but Director of Athletics Thomas Beckett said his department is investigating the incident.
Ben Gonzalez ’09, a member of the LGBT Co-op board and the coordinator of the Queer Resource Center, said he met with Trachtenberg on Monday to discuss the incident. The co-op hopes the men’s tennis team will issue an apology to anyone who may have been offended by the incident, he said.
“In my personal opinion, I believe it wasn’t a hate crime,” Gonzalez said. “It was just a terrible joke and in bad taste and offensive to many, which is befitting of an apology to the LGBT cooperative, [and] the members of SAE for using their identity and sullying their name.”
Tennis team member Rory Green ’08 declined to comment on the incident, saying the team dealt with the issue in a private meeting last fall. Several other members of the team could not be reached for comment.
Etienne Vazquez ’08, the president of SAE, said he was unaware of the incident but condemned the acts. The fraternity has had to deal in the past with students posing as SAE brothers, he said.
“It would make no sense as to why someone would do that in SAE,” he said. “It’s frustrating, and it’s something I don’t understand. You can’t stop people from being ridiculous.”
The co-op became aware of the incident in November when one member who witnessed it mentioned it at a board meeting, Gonzalez said. He said the student reported what happened to Pierson College master Harvey Goldblatt, who said he would contact someone in the athletics administration about resolving it.
During Monday’s meeting, Trachtenberg said, she asked Gonzalez and other co-op members to gather more information on the incident. She will call a meeting with the co-op to discuss a response as soon as she knows more about it, she said.
“I want to respond to the students, and we have to let the people in the athletic department know what happened and allow them to respond,” Trachtenberg said. “That’s the way we try to do things, in a way that brings everything out into the open.”
Co-op coordinator Anna Wipfler ’09 said she thinks the hazing was hurtful both to members of the LGBTQ community and to fraternities, which have historically been perceived as holding unfriendly attitudes toward gay students.
“This is the latest in a run of what most people would call homophobic events, and it was trying to reinforce stereotypes about fraternities’ being homophobic places,” she said. “A lot of people think it was SAE doing the homophobic hazing.”
Wipfler said she is considering reaching out to SAE and other fraternities to try to organize an event discussing the fraternities’ environments and their acceptance of gay students. On Monday night, the LGBT Co-op held a meeting intended to provide members with a forum to voice their opinions about this incident in particular and a culture of homophobia in general, Wipfler said.
The Athletics Department knows about the hazing and is in the process of investigating it, Beckett said.
“The Athletics Department is aware that an incident involving students from the men’s tennis team did occur late in the fall term,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We will determine a course of action once all of the information regarding the incident has been collected.”
Gonzalez said he hopes the administration will help set up a workshop between the Queer Peers counseling program and the athletics administration aimed at heightening sensitivity to queer issues. Maria Stevens ’06, a queer athlete who has worked on easing tension between the LGBT community and athletic teams, created a series of pamphlets and information sheets on the issue that could be used as part of the dialogue, he said.
Trachtenberg said she thinks implementation of such a program as a way to increase acceptance on campus is a “workable idea.”