A record number of female and gender nonbinary students auditioned for the all-male Yale Whiffenpoofs this week, in defiance of the a cappella group’s long-standing policy of admitting only men.
None of the roughly 15 students who auditioned were accepted into the Whiffenpoofs, which voted last November to remain single gender. But the auditions, which ran from Sunday to Wednesday night, represented the largest-ever female turnout in the 108-year history of the Whiffs, one of the most prestigious a cappella groups in the United States. Since the 1970s, the group — known for taking off an entire year of school to perform around the world — has repeatedly voted against admitting women.
In interviews with the News, the women who auditioned for the Whiffs said they adopted a variety of approaches: Some treated their performances as a normal audition, others as a protest against the group’s single-gender admission policy.
Claire Carroll ’18 — who spearheaded a petition last week urging the Whiffs to admit women — said she prepared for her performance just as she would for any other audition.
“The Whiffs were super respectful and genuinely nice throughout the whole process,” Carroll said. “They’re not bad people, some of them just have different visions for the future of the group.”
By contrast, Sydney Garick ’18, who auditioned just after midnight on Tuesday, used her time to speak out against the group’s single-gender tradition. Garick described her audition as a positive experience, adding that the group listened respectfully while she spoke.
But not every auditionee had a similarly positive experience with the Whiffs. Dhikshitha Balaji ’18, a member of the a cappella group Out of the Blue who auditioned on Monday, said that while the Whiffs were “not unfriendly,” the environment in the audition room was “definitely not super comfortable.”
And a gender nonbinary student who auditioned in the early hours of Monday morning told the News that four Whiffs walked out in the middle of the audition as the student stood in silent protest rather than performing a solo.
“Another member of the group asked them, if they were going to leave, could they do so more quietly,” said the student, who requested anonymity, adding that one of the four exiting Whiffs said they were “not respecting [the group’s] time.”
In a statement to the News on behalf of the Whiffs, Whiffenpoofs Musical Director Solon Snider ’18 said the walk-out was a result of the student “not properly signing the mandatory contract required prior to every audition.”
Before auditioning for the Whiffs, students are required to sign a contract committing to the group’s demanding travel schedule. The student told the News they signed the contract with the pronouns “they/them/their” rather than a name.
“They were forgoing the legitimacy of their audition for consideration, and instead using both the contract and their silence as a means of communicating their thoughts on the admissions criteria,” Snider said. “Their audition was the last slot slated for the night and since the audition was at that point disqualified from consideration by lack of a properly signed contract, a small minority of the group elected to leave for the night.”
He added that the other auditionees signed their names and that all Whiffs remained present for those auditions.
It is not the first time that women have auditioned for the Whiffs. In 1987, a group of nine women auditioned, and others have followed in their footsteps in the last three years, noting that the financial resources and global prestige of the Whiffs are unrivaled by any other a cappella group, including the all-senior female group Whim ’n Rhythm, founded in 1981.
But not every woman in Yale’s a cappella community believes that integrating the Whiffs would make a positive difference. Zoya Afridi ’17, co-business manager of Whim ’n Rhythm, said that admitting women into the Whiffs would sacrifice a “century-old tradition of music and camaraderie.”
She added that integrating the Whiffs would also severely disadvantage Whim ’n Rhythm, perhaps dismantling the group entirely. Unlike the Whiffs, Whim ’n Rhythm does not take a year off for touring.
“Immediate integration would without a doubt negatively affect Whim ‘n Rhythm,” said Isabelle Savoie ’17, another member of the all-female group. “That being said, it must be an ongoing discussion in the years to come. For now, Whim and the Whiffs are working together to see how we can work to elevate Whim and celebrate female voices.”
Still, a petition urging the Whiffs to admit women to its next class of singers garnered more than 135 signatures last week. The petition — which grew out of a Facebook group created to encourage female students to audition for the all-male group — called for the Whiffs to “open their arms to singers on the basis of talent alone.”
Rebecca Young ’18 — a member of the mixed-gender a cappella group Red Hot and Blue who auditioned for the Whiffs on Wednesday — said the notion that integrating the group would undermine Whim ’n Rhythm’s success does not take into account that many women prefer co-educational musical settings.
“My feminism doesn’t look like holding people hostage to a group that they don’t want to be in, simply by virtue of ‘girl power,’” Young said.
She added that gender nonbinary people might feel uncomfortable both in an all-male space like the Whiffenpoofs and all-female one such as Whim ’n Rhythm.
On Thursday, the Whiffs announced the 14 members of the class of 2018, all of whom are male. Still, Mary Petzke ’18, a member of the mixed-gender a capella group Mixed Company who also auditioned for the Whiffs, said she remains optimistic that the Whiffs will expand their membership in the future.
“I am disappointed with their final decision to not admit women, but I am looking forward to continuing this conversation with the newly tapped Whiffenpoof class, who I hope will be more receptive,” Petzke said.
The Whiffenpoofs were founded in 1909.
Clarification, Feb. 10: This article has been updated to make it clear that Solon Snider’s ’18 statement was on behalf of the Whiffenpoofs.