“Whiffenpoofs vote against admitting women.” The headline in the News (Nov. 30, 2016) was no surprise to me, but my stomach still sank. The vote confirmed that my gender would prohibit me from singing and traveling with one of the most famous a cappella groups in the country.
In all honesty, I love the Whiffenpoofs. Many of my closest friends at Yale have been, are or will be in the Whiffs. As a matter of fact, I credit the group for why I even applied to Yale. The Whiffs visit my hometown every year for the Sun Valley Jazz Festival, and in high school, I marveled at the idea of singing a cappella, something my school didn’t offer. My senior year, a few of the Whiffs I met at the festival convinced me to add Yale to my list of colleges. I was inspired by the idea that I, too, could have the opportunity to dedicate a year to traveling the world, networking and most importantly, singing. Because they were the only Yale a cappella group that I had ever seen, I assumed that I would have access to the same experience. I was wrong.
For the sake of women coming to Yale in the years to come, this needs to change.
The Whiffenpoofs were founded in 1909, 60 years before undergraduate women were admitted to Yale. Organizations like the Yale Glee Club integrated almost immediately when women were admitted to Yale College, but other groups which prioritized tradition have yet to open their doors. Whim ’n Rhythm was created in 1981 as the all-female senior counterpart to the Whiffs, but the two groups are far from equal. This disparity embodies wider divisions between all-male singing groups and their coed or female counterparts. In particular, women do not have access to the same network of alumni or name recognition that comes with century-old organizations. We don’t get to be in the groups that promise to tour in our hometowns, who get invited to sing at places like the White House or who go on large international tours every year. As a business manager of a mixed group, it hurts to reach out to potential clients and have them decline because they are looking for an all-male group this year.
So why not let women into the Whiffenpoofs? If it’s a question of sound quality, there are definitely women who can sing low enough for the tenor 1 parts and preserve the typical “all-male sound.” Integrating the Whiffs would change the social dynamic of the group, but this would be a positive change. There are former Whiffs who wish there had been women in the group to add social balance. There are men who would rather be in Whim ’n Rhythm because they don’t feel comfortable with the overly masculine atmosphere of the Whiffs.
To be sure, the financial threat of admitting women is a legitimate one. It is scary to do anything that will turn away potential clients, and those who are seeking the “traditional” Whiffs could lose interest. But groups like the Glee Club have successfully set a precedent for converting to a mixed chorus while maintaining their status as one of the most highly regarded collegiate singing groups in the world. Accepting women might hurt alumni relations and funding for a few years, but it could also greatly improve the group’s image and success, showing the world (and all the young women who wish to come to Yale and sing a cappella) that we value women’s voices.
To current Whiffs, it isn’t too late to vote to accept people of all genders. I, along with many women in my class, look forward to auditioning next week. We ask that you think carefully about the opportunities you have had and which you are prohibiting us from sharing in. If you are truly looking for the best talent, you should be as inclusive as possible. Judge us only on our voices and musical talent, not our gender.
Mary Petzke is a junior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .