Associate Vice President of Student Life Burgwell Howard advised Yale’s fraternities to allow all students, regardless of their gender, to attend rush events in an email to the fraternity presidents last Thursday.
“A number of you have mentioned concerns you have or have had regarding Yale students who may be interested in participating in your rush/recruitment process, but their gender identity or expression may not allow them to be offered membership in your national organizations,” wrote Howard. “My basic advice is that it does no harm to have your rush events open to all eligible members of the Yale community — regardless of gender.”
The email arrived as Engender, a student group dedicated to ending gender discrimination in all-male fraternities, prepares to make its presence known during this year’s rush season, which begins this week for Yale’s sororities and many fraternities. Last Tuesday, Engender contacted eight fraternities to request a gender-inclusive recruitment process. According to a statement from Engender, Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Nu and Chi Psi are the only fraternities to respond so far.
A representative from SigEp said the fraternity is restricted by national bylaws but hopes to work with Engender, Chi Psi similarly said they were restricted by national bylaws but are open to working with Engender on becoming a more inclusive space, and Sigma Nu reaffirmed that only male students would be allowed to rush, according to the statement.
“To be true and authentic to the Fraternity’s mission and principles, the recruitment activities of a collegiate chapter are for those students of the applicable college or university who are eligible for membership,” Sigma Nu’s response to Engender read.
Several fraternities at Yale suspended their rush events this past weekend amid concerns that Engender members would attend their rush events. Alpha Epsilon Pi, for example, postponed a rush event on Thursday night to “remain respectful of the entire Yale community,” according to an email sent out to the fraternity’s recruitment pool.
Six of the eight fraternities contacted by Engender — Alpha Epsilon Pi, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Leo, Sigma Chi, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Zeta Psi — did not respond to request for comment on Sunday. Otis Baker ’19, president of Chi Psi and a former photography editor for the News, said that the Yale chapter is waiting to receive guidance from its central office on how to handle the situation.
During Greek Council meetings last fall, Howard told the News, chapter leaders discussed how their fraternities could become more inclusive. He added that he sent his email to remind the fraternities about “the importance of the tone” they set for students involved in rush.
In the email to the Greek life community, Howard affirmed that the University has “no interest at this time” in dictating to student organizations who they may select for membership and that his office supports all-female, all-male and co-ed organizations in the University’s Greek life community.
“There are some students who, truthfully, will be looking for inconsistencies, biases or discrimination in your processes, so I encourage you to be as clear and transparent as you can about your processes, timelines etc. — to help people understand,” Howard added in the email. “Whatever you do, please be consistent and honest with all potential new members who come through your process.”
Howard also wrote in his email that he has been in conversation with the North-American Interfraternity Conference about the fact that a number of Greek life organizations on Yale’s campus require that new members identify as “men or male” and recognized that many Greek life groups on campus have modified these criteria to accommodate students along the gender spectrum who identify as male.
A statement from Engender responding to Howard’s email said that the group was “heartened” to see Howard’s suggestion that fraternities open rush to all Yale students. But the group encouraged Howard to go further and invoke Yale’s equal opportunity policy, which, according to Engender, “requires that both recruitment and membership in registered and unregistered student groups be available to students regardless of gender,” to act against fraternities.
“Instead of cooperating with an NIC headquarters committed to maintaining the segregated and unequal status quo, we hope the administration will intervene to secure equality for all its students,” Engender said in their statement.
Chief Communications Officer of the North-American Interfraternity Conference Heather Matthews Kirk told the News that Engender raises “important questions” about the Yale student experience and that it is important for fraternity men to be involved in the conversation about a safer, more inclusive community.
She added, however, that recruitment “is only for individuals eligible to join an organization.”
“Each … fraternity has its own criteria for membership, and its chapters — like those at Yale — use that to determine who is eligible for recruitment,” Kirk said. “Students should have the choice to decide which organizations best suit their needs, including whether to join a co-ed or all-men’s or all-women’s organization.”
Engender told the News in its statement that the North-American Interfraternity Conference imposed a moratorium on rush for this past weekend for all conference fraternities at Yale over concerns about Engender’s plans to attend rush events. Kirk did not respond directly to that allegation but said that it is not the organization’s policy to govern the activities of chapters.
The North-American Interfraternity Conference was founded in 1909.
Britton O’Daly | email@example.com
Correction, Jan. 23: A previous version of this article incorrectly cited Engender’s statement as saying that Chi Psi’s Yale chapter informed Engender that their fraternity will only allow male students to rush. In fact, according to Engender’s statement, Chi Psi said that they are restricted by national bylaws but are open to working with Engender on becoming a more inclusive space.