With the conclusion of Greek life recruitment, Engender — a student group that coordinated the attendance of female students at the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon’s rush events — plans to take its course to the next stage and lobby the Yale administration to intervene in the single gender membership policies of fraternities by helping local Yale chapters navigate the gender requirement bylaws of their national organizations as well as prepare the wider student community for a social system in which more gender inclusive spaces exist on campus.
SigEp broke ground in the Greek life scene at Yale this year when members voted to allow female and nonbinary students to attend its recruitment events, but the fraternity announced in advance that it would accept only men because of national regulations. Now, Will McGrew ’18, a member of SigEp and a co-director of Engender, says the group will cite Title IX and the Yale’s policies on gender discrimination to convince the administration to intervene in the issue. In contrast with Harvard University, which issued sanctions against students in single gender societies and Greek organizations last May, Engender believes that sanctions targeting fraternities are unproductive.
“We view it as the logical next step to go to Yale because all of these organizations fall under the purview of Yale legally, either because they are registered as Yale organizations or it is literally all Yale students that constitute them,” McGrew said.
Restricting fraternity membership to only males is a form of sex discrimination, co-directors of the group said in an interview, adding that Yale has an obligation to address the concern as it falls under the scope of Title IX and Yale’s own policies on gender discrimination. However, according to the Department of Justice’s Title IX legal manual, “Title IX exemptions include the membership policies of certain university-based social fraternities and sororities.”
According to McGrew, about five to 10 women attended all of SigEp’s rush meals and recruitment events, eventually submitting bid requests. Engender did not attend rush events of other fraternities, although they contacted them in mid-January requesting that they allow women and nonbinary students to rush, McGrew said.
According to co-directors of Engender, the fraternity Sigma Nu declined the request for female and nonbinary students to attend rush events by citing the right to free association for an all-male institution. Chi Psi made an explicit note that, as per the bylaws of their national organization, females are not allowed at their rush events, Engender co-directors said.
The president and vice president of Leo met with Engender about allowing women and nonbinary students at rush events, but concluded that their rush process had already progressed too far to adjust its structure. Delta Kappa Epsilon notified Engender that their rush process had already completed.
Leo and the Yale chapters of SigEp, Sigma Chi and AEPi did not respond to request for comment. The Yale chapters of Sig Nu and DKE declined to comment.
“None of the emails we received gave arguments for why men are the only people allowed at these events,” said Ry Walker ’20, a co-director of Engender. “They simply passed on messages from their nationals.”
McGrew said that for many of the fraternities they contacted, their national bylaws were likely not specific in how they define gender requirements for recruitment versus membership. For example, SigEp’s national organization notified its Yale chapter that coed rush events would be fine as long as no females received bids, he said.
Co-directors of Engender, including McGrew, anticipated that following its recent campaign, many fraternity national organizations will define their bylaws to include more explicit gender requirements for the rush process. But from the perspective of some national organizations, only people eligible to join the fraternities are actually considered to be actively rushing.
“Recruitment — by its very nature — is only for individuals eligible for membership,” said Heather Matthews Kirk, chief communications officer of the North-American Interfraternity Conference, which works with 69 men’s fraternities. “A person’s attendance at an event doesn’t mean they’re being recruited.”
Engender does not currently have an official position on whether sororities should be gender-integrated. McGrew said that whereas fraternities deliberately cultivate themselves as social spaces, sororities tend towards intimate associations and do not affect wider social trends at Yale in the same manner.
For the female students who attended SigEp recruitment events, like Walker, interactions with male rushees proved to be more awkward than expected. Walker and McGrew postulated that most of the male students at the events did not know how enthusiastic current SigEp members are for opening rush events to women, and therefore avoided contact with the women present for fear of missing out on a bid.
“It was interesting to see how people that I interact with on a daily basis would not even acknowledge my presence,” Walker said. “It made for a weird situation.”
Fence Club, a coed fraternity, concluded its own rush process on Wednesday night. Members of the coed fraternity deemed the club’s gender-integrated nature to be one of its attractive qualities.
“It feels like a space free of gendered expectations,” said Alex Saiontz ’18, a member of Fence. “I know many women who wanted access to a space where they could play drinking games and let loose in a way that is typically associated with fraternities. Obviously fraternities were not available to them and they did not think they would find this space in sororities.”
Saiontz added that the gender-inclusive nature of Fence has allowed her to form closer friendships in an atmosphere of good intentions.
Fence began admitting women in 2009.
Correction, Feb. 17: An earlier version of this article misstated that Engender wants to lobby the administration to impose sanctions on fraternities. In fact, McGrew clarified in a follow-up that Engender wants the University to intervene in such a way that it will help fraternities determine how their national bylaws affect gender-inclusiveness and what can be done about it. Both the article and headline have been updated to reflect this change.