In light of recent and exciting pieces about the integration of the Yale Whiffenpoofs, we wanted to add a fresh perspective. The thing is, it’s impossible to know exactly what it’s like to be in Whim ’n Rhythm or the Whiffenpoofs until you’ve actually gone through it. After being in Whim for a year and having had the luxury of time to reflect on our experience, the Whim ’n Rhythm Class of 2014 would like to contribute to this dialogue.
To be clear, we’re incredibly excited that women are taking a hard look at the institutional inequity that exists between the Whiffenpoofs and Whim ’n Rhythm. There is inequity, it is not fair and it needs to change.
Unfortunately, some of the only voices we have heard about this issue are those of women who have been denied entry into the Whiffenpoofs. In this yearslong conversation, we have yet to hear from Whim alumnae. We haven’t heard from Whiffs about their current relationship with Whim (which, to be sure, was a great relationship in our year that might have been improved but was by no means unproductive). The relative silence of these groups has resulted in some misdirection in the conversation: The problem goes well beyond the fact that women are barred from admission to the Whiffenpoofs on the basis of their gender. The problem is that the radically unequal opportunities for the two groups makes it seem, to the vast majority of Yalies, that Whim ’n Rhythm is the lesser group.
For women — specifically for the 14 of us in the Whim ’n Rhythm Class of 2014 — Whim is an unbelievably supportive, empowering, precious sisterhood. It was worth our time a thousand times over. But it was that way because we made it so through our hard work. Whim ’n Rhythm was not easy, and it was not handed to us fully-formed. We had to build it.
Every year, Whim has to conquer challenges that virtually do not exist for men’s groups like the Whiffenpoofs. Whim faces gigs that don’t pay equally for equal work, schools that say they’re “looking for guys this year” and even students at Yale who think Whim ’n Rhythm is an opening act for the Whiffenpoofs. The list goes on. But we fought through it, and Whim continues to fight through it, because having a women’s space is incredibly important, especially in times like these. Whim is a platform for empowerment, both for ourselves and other women in our communities and our world. To sing and work and fight inequality with other women whose strength is rivaled only by their passion — there are no words to describe what an experience like this means to young women. What an experience like this meant to us.
Therefore, we believe that this conversation should be bigger than one about integration. The conversation does not stop at simply giving women access to a men’s group with more opportunities.
It should go deeper than that. We want to ask current and future Whiffenpoof classes:
Are you willing and able to lift Whim ’n Rhythm up as exactly what the group is — a community of hard-working women who want equal opportunity and equal recognition?
Are you willing and able to share your resources, your knowledge and your stage with women you see and respect as your equals?
Are you willing and able to engage with Whim about these issues?
Let’s celebrate a women’s group as a women’s group and take extra steps and care to provide it with the opportunity, recognition and prestige that men’s groups are given. Let’s make Whim something that everyone looks at and says: “You know what, I think this group would give me the kinds of opportunities I’m looking for.”
And let’s keep talking about this, long after auditions are over. Let’s engage year-round as a community.
Mary Bolt and Jade Nicholson graduated from Yale College in 2014 and were members of Whim ’n Rhythm. Contact them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org . All members of the Whim Class of 2014 contributed to this piece.