Long before coming to Yale, prospective students are inundated with disturbing statistics and media anecdotes about college party culture. Although most women do not experience the immersive, sex-segregated, alcohol-fueled party scene until they arrive on campus, we have been continuously warned about our vulnerability in this social dynamic. In this social climate, we are expected to be passive subjects, as fraternities only offer membership — and the accompanying social agency — to men.
During Camp Yale, freshmen move into Old Campus, Blue Book and pack their schedules throughout their nights, becoming acquainted with a wide array of extracurricular, professional and social activities — including fraternities. At the same time, freshmen attend Community and Consent Educator workshops during the day. These sessions emphasize the importance of consent in sexual interactions and encourage students to strive for enthusiastic, positive sexual encounters. But these values contrast with the reality of groping and sexual harassment many freshmen women experience at events held by fraternities and other male-controlled social groups.
When we shared our experiences with our male peers, they did not express moral outrage. Instead, they asked: “So now that you’ve seen how it is, will you go back?” “Aren’t women consenting to those acts by going to the frat?” Apparently, our Yale community expects women to opt out of social spaces where they might experience sexual harassment, instead of trying to fix institutional gender inequalities, which promote sexual entitlement and normalize sexual violence.
The gender-based exclusion of nonmales from fraternities sends the message that social opportunities should be restricted by gender. Beyond reinforcing gender-based stereotypes, gender segregation creates divisions between “the in-group” and “the out-group” — “the boys” and everyone else. Fraternities gain power through this dynamic as they have full control over not just the parties they host, but mainstream party culture at Yale. As a result, women attending these events must assume a passive role: waiting to be let in while the brother at the door looks her up and down, dependent on the brother behind the bar for alcohol, expected to remain silent if approached from behind by a man. This sex-segregated system gives men disproportionate power in social and sexual life. It cannot continue to exist at an institution which labels itself as inclusive, meritocratic and progressive.
Although each fraternity chapter has developed its own reputation, there can be no “good” fraternities in this system. As long as only men hold the power over Yale’s party culture, fraternities will remain a force that perpetuates the oppression of female and nonbinary students. The exclusion of nonmales from membership — and the many benefits that accrue — stratifies social opportunities and calcifies traditional and binary conceptions of masculinity and femininity. LGBTQ+ students and others who do not adhere to these traditional ideals often feel as if they don’t belong in sex-segregated social spaces. No matter how progressive some brothers may seem, institutionalized discrimination of any form contradicts the objectives of a liberal education.
For this reason, we are rushing Yale’s fraternities along with other female students. Many students have asked why women should be allowed to rush — and actually receive bids — from fraternities. Some men feel uncomfortable at the mere prospect. It’s time to question whether these feelings constitute a legitimate concern or stem from the fear of losing the upper hand in a “tradition” which drastically favors men over women. Our calls for reform are not an attack on men, brotherhood or any other institution, but an invitation to students at Yale, and in particular men at Yale, to join us in building a better University.
The main opposing argument rests on the idea of “brotherhood.” In fact, there’s no evidence that women and men “naturally” can’t be intimate friends. Students of all genders interact and form intergender relationships almost every day in class and every weekend at extracurricular events, including fraternity parties. If anything, gender-integrated fraternities and social groups at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other schools facilitate relationships among students of all identities and more accurately reflect a diverse environment similar to world beyond Yale. Some of the best friendships are forged among men, women and students of all genders who are challenged to embrace and overcome their difference.
Men, women and nonbinary people are already working together to end inequality, especially in this era of backlash against progressive gains. In the aftermath of the Women’s March, it is more important than ever to defend inclusivity and foster a sense of solidarity across gender, race and class. Our collective experiences provide irrefutable evidence that students of all genders are important to the social life of our institution and to our mental and emotional health.
The case for inclusion is clear. We are simply asking that women and nonbinary students be afforded an equal role in helping improve social spaces for everyone. At Yale and in America, there should be no glass ceilings, no exclusionary walls and no closed doors. “Separate but equal” has failed; “together but different” must be our future.
Larissa Martinez is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College, Anna McNeil is a freshman in Branford College and Ry Walker is a freshman in Saybrook College. Genevieve Esse, Will McGrew, Malina Simard-Halm, Cierra Taylor and Nika Zarazvand assisted in writing. They are founding members of Engender, a registered student organization. McGrew is also a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon at Yale. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org .