Gender dominates our lives, determining who our friends are, who is treated with respect, who gets recruited into finance and who has power on campus. With Greek rush completed, freshman guys now know if they’ll be able to host legendary house parties until graduation, and freshman girls know if they’ll get invited to those parties — or if they’ll have to wait at the door. While Yale’s Greek membership is relatively small on campus, fraternities and sports houses throw the vast majority of large off-campus parties, monopolizing control over a key resource for forming networks in college and far eclipsing the impact of secret societies on the daily life of campus.
As events in recent months have made clear, the dominance of all-male, mostly white, mostly straight social groups creates a segregated, hierarchical “party” scene on campuses across the country where women, people of color and LGBT students feel devalued and excluded from spaces controlled by men who don’t look like them — and often don’t have friends like them. Like all organizations, Yale’s Greek chapters must take action to include students of all backgrounds, but they are restricted by the status quo: National rules mandate sex discrimination in membership, prohibit sororities from throwing parties in their houses and require recruitment and pledge processes that often enforce masculine aggression and feminine sexual propriety and objectification. Sorority sisters as well as non-Greek women can thus only access social spaces through relationships with men. And once inside frat or sports houses — i.e. “private property” — status is attained through playing by the brothers’ rules, not the University’s. Membership fees, discomfort with social differences and recruitment pipelines from certain teams and high schools are additional obstacles for minority and LGBT students.
It is outrageous that white heterosexual men control almost all the social spaces at one of the world’s most progressive universities. Yale has avoided a productive relationship with Greek life, intervening only in media firestorms, but otherwise abandoning its students to fend for themselves. Given co-ed eating clubs at Princeton and Harvard’s recent push to co-educate final clubs, Yale should take this opportunity to change course and lead the nation in empowering all students to live their social and sexual lives on their own terms. United Against Sexual Assault at Yale, the Sexual Literacy Forum, Community and the Consent Educators’ training sessions at certain Greek organizations and the sororities’ dialogues on inclusion are great initiatives that should be universalized by the administration to all social and athletic groups.
Beyond integrating existing organizations, making Yale a truly inclusive place will require elevating the status of femininity, blackness, gayness and every other “-ness” we’ve been socialized to distrust. In the model of co-ops at Stanford, eating clubs at Princeton and co-ed frats at Wesleyan, Yale should create a substantial fund to help sororities and co-ed groups control their own houses, host their own parties, forge their own experiences and celebrate their own identities. As a complement to existing Greek organizations, a vibrant co-ed social system would boost the bargaining power of marginalized groups on campus, improve student experiences and serve as an alternative to dreaded annex housing.
I’m in Yale’s chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon, and my friendships with the brothers have been one of the most enriching elements of my Yale experience. At its best, Greek life can bring us together, but we shouldn’t let a Greek organization define our identity, as can often occur when members of social or athletic groups spend most of their time with other members, likely of the same gender, income and ethnic background. Even if this segregation is “self-selecting,” research has demonstrated that the types of people we spend time with now will heavily determine those we later view positively, work well with, befriend and hire. Integrating institutions helps us embrace more diverse qualities and experiences — masculine, feminine, black, white and everything in between — making us individually and collectively more innovative and productive.
While there are differences between the sexes, there is no reason why these differences should necessitate different social roles, particularly when they are so heavily shaped by social norms. I know many women who are better at planning events than some of my brothers — along with several who are better drinkers. So why can’t they throw parties? Or even join a frat? The only response is the same sexism used against women in the workforce, co-education and gender-neutral housing: Women “don’t belong” in certain places because they’ll be vulnerable to sexual aggression and will distract men. Fence and co-ed groups on other campuses prove we are better than this: Men and women can overcome pubescent feelings of discomfort to develop healthy, fulfilling and equal friendships. To do so, however, women and men (and girls and boys) must be allowed to play, study, work, live and party together — according to their own rules. Without inclusion, there is no equality: separate but equal isn’t equal at all.
Will McGrew is a sophomore in Calhoun College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .