This story has been updated.
The Duke’s Men of Yale announced plans Thursday to open auditions to all students regardless of gender, becoming the first traditionally all-male a cappella group at the University to abolish gender restrictions.
“Being able to sing our repertoire as it currently exists or participate in our community is not contingent on a person’s biological sex or gender identity,” the Duke’s Men wrote in a Facebook post. “It is a disservice to our group and our community at large to audition along gendered lines.”
The announcement comes amid growing pressure on Yale’s all-male singing groups to admit women and other students who do not identify as male. In February, a student petition urging the Yale Whiffenpoofs to admit women received more than one hundred signatures.
The decision to integrate the Duke’s Men was unanimous, said Jerome Walker ’19, who served as the musical director last year. The group began discussing a possible change at the end of 2016, after the Whiffs voted to remain single-gender, he added.
The group did not consult its alumni base until after the decision was reached at the end of the spring semester, Walker said.
“There were some people who thought this was a bad idea, and a lot of people who thought this was a good idea, and a lot of people who were just worried and wanted to make sure we were prepared,” he said.
The announcement by the Duke’s Men means there are now only six all-male a capella groups at Yale, the same as the number of mixed-gender groups.
The Duke’s Men are widely considered to be a feeder to the Whiffenpoofs, say students involved in a capella, and the group’s announcement will place additional pressure on the Whiffs to begin admitting non-male singers.
“The Whiffs’ explanation for not wanting to integrate is that they have a very long tradition and it would be hard to change their arrangements,” said Sarah DiMagno ’18, a member of the Singing Group Council. “The Duke’s Men has sort of refuted that by saying we can have our sounds and still admit women.”
In the statement, the Duke’s Men promised to maintain its current musical configuration — two tenors, baritone and bass, or TTBB — through the open auditions in the fall. But other aspects of the group’s single-gender history, including its name, may not prove to be sacrosanct, the singers wrote.
“Our name has the potential to undermine our message of inclusivity, but it also represents a cherished group history,” the statement said. “With the help of our alumni, we will continue to discuss which elements should stay as we become an all-gender group, and which should change.”
In a Facebook message, Duke’s Men alumnus Charles Johnson ’68 told the News he supports the group’s decision to integrate because it is appropriate for the times.
“Even though groups like The Duke’s Men were all-male for historical reasons, there’s no reason now to exclude membership on the basis of gender, gender identity or gender preference,” Johnson said. “I challenge the other a cappella groups to review their policies and ‘do the right thing.’”
The Whiffs have faced pressure to integrate since 1987, when nine women showed up for auditions to protest the all-male policy. This year, 15 women and gender non-binary students attended Whiff auditions, the largest non-male turnout in the group’s history.
The Duke’s Men was founded in 1952, nearly two decades before Yale began admitting women.