The Yale College Dean’s Office has lifted its suspension of the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus a cappella group’s fall rush, a sanction that resulted from one member initiating a prank against three other a cappella groups.
In a Sunday email, the Singing Group Council — a group of four people that oversees the a cappella rush process — informed the singing community that the YCDO had lifted all sanctions on the SOBs’ rush process. SGC member Grant Fergusson ’17 told the News that sanctions on a small group of individual students remain, but the SOBs can begin holding auditions this weekend to recruit a new class of members.
“We’re over the moon about being able to have another rush and are really excited about the coming weeks,” SOBs music coordinator Benson May ’17 said.
On Sept. 5, a member of the SOBs asked a friend of a friend, who was not a Yale student, to audition for three other all-male a cappella groups under a false 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. As punishment, the group was barred from participating in this year’s a cappella rush, prompting the rest of the singing community to rally in support of the SOBs.
More than 100 current and former students signed an open letter to Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway in early September calling for more information about the administration’s decision to sanction the entire group for the actions of one individual, and the Singing Group Council acted as a liaison between administrators and the SOBs.
The leaders of the SOBs, alongside the prankster, appeared before the Executive Committee on Sept. 30, and on Oct. 8, Holloway told the group over email that his office had lifted the suspension of the group’s rush process, according to May.
Holloway told the News that in response to the prank, he decided to sanction the SOBs while the Executive Committee conducted an impartial investigation of the incident. With that investigation complete, he said he chose to lift the suspension not in a reversal of policy, but in an effort to take the next step in an important communal process.
In the email informing the SOB’s of his decision, Holloway said he told the group that his first priority is to protect the Yale community — and he asked the group to live up to the standard that community sets.
“When I wrote to the SOBs to say that I had lifted the sanctions, I explained that as the steward of Yale College my primary concern is for the safety and wellbeing of its entire community, including the students, faculty members, and staff members unaffiliated with singing groups,” Holloway said. “I urged them to approach their work with that same community in mind, and in the spirit of goodwill.”
May added that over the past month, the SOBs have held about 15 hours of internal discussion to talk about group culture and why one member felt it was acceptable to conduct such a prank. He added that when the prankster appeared before the Executive Committee, he expressed deep regret for his actions and the consequences that followed. In addition, as the person who planned and executed the prank, he received the harshest penalty, May said. Fergusson said the student is now effectively on probation, so the YCDO is monitoring his behavior.
While highly unusual in timing, the SOBs’ rush process will feature many of the same components as traditional fall a cappella rush, which concluded on Sept. 15. The group will hold auditions this weekend, rush meals and a “singing dessert” later in the month, culminating in callback auditions and a tap night in early November. Fergusson said he met with May almost immediately after the reversal of the suspension to talk about how to craft a worthwhile rush process on such short notice.
Though a cappella group members interviewed said they support the reversal of the suspension, some questioned whether the SOBs could fully recover.
John Augustine ’18, rush manager of the Baker’s Dozen a cappella group, said the SOBs might struggle to maintain the culture, character and level of singing talent they have had in previous years, as many talented singers have already joined other groups. Others noted that in hindsight, the YCDO should have allowed the SOBs to recruit freshmen and then reprimanded the group afterward, since not having a freshman class can undermine the dynamic and quality of an a capella group.
Still, May said he expects the reversal of the suspension to repair most of the damage that has been done to the group over the past month.
“I am a huge believer that every freshman ends up in the right group,” he said. “There are still so many people out there who want to rush us.”
Update: This article has been updated to include the views of Dean of Yale College Jonathan Holloway.