The Yale chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity voted over winter break to allow women to attend its rush events, but will not extend bids to them because of national regulations specifying that only men can join.
Women interested in rushing will be notified beforehand that they will not be offered bids. The decision to invite women to rush came after a group of female students expressed interest in attending fraternity rush events, according to Tyler Morley ’18, the fraternity’s president.
“We have chosen to welcome them to rush and will be meeting with the leaders of the group this week to talk about how to best include them in the process and how to make our fraternity a more welcoming place to all Yale students while following the bylaws that have governed our organization for years,” Morley said in a statement.
According to Will McGrew ’18, a SigEp member who supported the change, the push to include women in fraternity life is part of a larger movement calling for an increased role of sororities and coeducational groups in campus social life.
The dominance of “white, mostly straight” social groups at Yale creates power imbalances in terms of race, class, gender and sexuality, McGrew argued in a February op-ed in the News.
“It is outrageous that white heterosexual men control almost all the social spaces at one of the world’s most progressive universities,” McGrew wrote.
McGrew told the News Wednesday that he supported “any effort, including the efforts by these women, to start a conversation about how and why women and nonbinary people do not have access to the same opportunities and experiences as male students” at Yale.
Vicki Beizer ’18, a spokesman for the Women’s Center, acknowledged the value in opening conversations about single-sex organizations. However, she added that more substantial actions on the issue could be taken beyond inviting women to rush events.
“SigEp is doing this not as an act of their own initiative, but in response to a group of nonmales who wanted to rush,” Beizer said. “If any fraternity truly believed that their values as a group are not gender-exclusive, they would be open to extending bids to nonmales, regardless of repercussions from their national organization.”
The developments reflect discussions at Harvard and other peer schools about single-sex organizations and their dominance in campus social life. Last May, Harvard introduced a policy prohibiting members of unrecognized single-sex clubs and Greek organizations from holding leadership roles and receiving nominations for academic honors including the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.
Yale has only one coed fraternity, the Fence Club, which disaffiliated from its national Greek organization Psi Upsilon and began admitting women in 2009.
Greek life is not the only aspect of campus life influenced by discussions surrounding the role of single-gender organizations at Yale: This fall, the Yale Whiffenpoofs, an all-male a cappella group, voted not to admit female singers next academic year. The group said admitting women would compromise its traditional image as an all-male a cappella group and siphon membership from Whim ’n Rhythm, Yale’s all-female senior a cappella group.
SigEp was founded in 1901 at the University of Richmond, formerly Richmond College.