Just three days before Harvard announced its plans to cut ties with unrecognized single-gender organizations last week, the Yale College Council released a report recommending that the University formalize its relationship with Greek organizations and better incorporate them into the existing administrative framework.
Last Friday, Harvard University President Drew Faust wrote in a college-wide email that, beginning with the class of 2021, members of single-gender organizations — including final clubs, fraternities and sororities — will no longer be able to captain sports teams or assume leadership positions in registered student organizations. Additionally, Harvard will not endorse these individuals for top scholarships such as the Rhodes and Marshall.
According to Faust’s email, the decision to sanction single-gender organizations stems from “discriminatory membership policies” that undermine Harvard’s values and that perpetuate all-male spaces and power imbalances. But in New Haven, as Yale similarly seeks to address increased scrutiny of Greek life and sexual misconduct, administrators seem to be moving toward greater oversight of single-gender organizations, rather than distancing themselves from them. Following an allegedly “white girls only” Halloween party at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity last fall, students and administrators have agreed that a stronger connection between Yale and its sororities and fraternities will improve the experience for the whole community.
A report published by the Yale College Council Task Force on Greek Life on May 3 recommended, among other things, that the University formalize its relationship with Greek organizations and require them to register as official student groups. It also suggested the formation of a Greek Council, which would include representatives from each sorority and fraternity who would meet regularly with Yale College administrators.
“Coming up with productive ways for Yale to formalize its relationship with Greek life was one of the main focuses of our recommendations,” said Skyler Inman ’17, director of the YCC Task Force on Greek Life and president of Yale’s chapter of the Alpha Phi sorority. “A formalized relationship will not only help maintain a line of accountability and transparency between Greek organizations and the administration, but it will [also] encourage University policies that allow for proactive management of an inclusive, safe system, rather than reactive responses to crises after they’ve already arisen.”
Inman added that members of these organizations are “eager” to take part in conversations about how to make Greek life a more positive presence on campus. There is a level of responsibility and ownership that accompanies Greek life, Inman said.
All four Panhellenic sororities — Kappa Kappa Gamma, Kappa Alpha Theta, Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Phi — have already registered as official student organizations last semester after a community discussion, and Inman said she hopes that fraternities will soon follow suit.
Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard said the announcement from Cambridge was “quite surprising” and represents a powerful statement from Harvard administrators about the kind of community they want to build. But at Yale, Howard said the administration is approaching the subject from another angle.
“Yale is obviously in a different place in relation to single-sex organizations,” Howard said. “I believe that there is an opportunity to work with our Greek organizations to better support the experience students have who are involved in them, and for those students who visit and socialize there.”
Howard added that Yale’s organizations — Greek and beyond — could benefit from organizational support, leadership development and risk management training provided by the Yale College Dean’s Office. He emphasized that the goal is to ensure that Yale can support all of its student organizations and that events hosted by student groups are safe and welcoming to the entire community.
Dean of Student Affairs Camille Lizarríbar did not return interview requests. YCC President Joe English ’17 deferred requests for comment to Inman.
“Given the Task Force’s emphasis on exploring ways that Yale’s Greek system can meet the evolving needs of Yale’s diverse community, it makes sense that the Task Force did not examine or recommend measures that seek to get rid of Greek life altogether,” said Peter Hwang ’18, the incoming YCC task force director and incoming president of the Sigma Chi fraternity, who participated in the Greek life task force.
Considering sororities that foster communities for women, Hwang said gendered spaces can be safer spaces.
Hwang added that he wonders if the lack of cultural-interest Greek organizations on Harvard’s campus might have impacted the administration’s perspective on the role that Greek life can play to promote communities that have been historically marginalized on Ivy League campuses. At Yale, according to the Greek life task force, two Latina-based multicultural sororities and one Latino-based fraternity are currently active.
Inman also said the nature of the problem at Yale is different from that at Harvard. The Harvard administration is mainly trying to address issues that relate to its six all-male finals clubs, which Inman said have been criticized for their exclusionary policies and ties to high rates of sexual misconduct. Finals clubs are more similar to secret societies than Greek organizations, Inman explained, but many people have commented that fraternities and sororities were included as part of the new Harvard policy as a matter of political necessity.
“If the policy is simply a struggle for power between [Harvard] and the final clubs, that’s one thing, and I’m sure that if that’s the case then some groups will be able to survive as ‘official’ student organizations,” Inman said. “But if it’s an attempt to ‘fix’ the university and make it more inclusive, I think [Harvard’s recent announcement] is a band-aid solution that ignores what are probably many structural problems that contribute to sexual assault and discrimination on their campus.”
In the end, Inman said, Yale and Harvard both want to establish inclusive and positive environments on campus for all of their students, and both have “lots of room” for improvements.