Since their inception more than two centuries ago, Greek organizations on college campuses have been defined by single-gender membership. With the goal of fostering brotherhood or sisterhood, fraternities and sororities at Yale have upheld this tradition since 1836, when Alpha Delta Phi became the first fraternity to establish a chapter on campus.
But with interest in Yale’s only coed fraternity, Fence Club, rising each year and the student group Engender advocating that fraternities and other campus groups stop restricting membership on the basis of gender, the notion of single-gender social organizations has become a focal point of campus discussions about Greek life.
This year, over 150 students rushed Fence Club, a group that in 2007 disaffiliated with its national organization, Psi Upsilon, due to difficulties recruiting new members and disagreements over national dues. Fence Club began admitting women a couple years after the disaffiliation, according to Psi Upsilon Fraternity Executive Director Thomas Fox. Nearly 100 people submitted requests for membership, and just 20 received bids, according to Fence Club President Katherine Hong ’19, making Fence Club one of the most selective Greek organizations on campus.
While an increasing number of students have sought a coed community in Fence Club, others have been pushing to open Yale’s existing Greek organizations to students of all genders. This year, over 20 women and nonbinary students with Engender participated in Sigma Phi Epsilon’s rush process. About ten nonmale students requested bids from the fraternity — twice the number that did last year when SigEp first opened its rush events to students of all genders. Like last year, none of these nonmale students were offered bids because of the national organization’s regulations specifying that only men can join the fraternity.
“We feel encouraged by students’ growing consciousness of gender inequity in single-sex spaces,” said Gabe Roy ’21, director of communications for Engender. “While we argue this marks an improvement in our campus’s culture, Engender maintains that the great majority of social spaces are gender-segregated and that social life will remain exclusionary and unsafe as long as the status quo is upheld.”
As Engender continues to advocate for the integration of fraternities on campus, the group is also exploring the possible addition of new, gender-inclusive organizations at Yale, according to Roy. The group plans to distribute a survey this week to gauge students’ potential interest in a new coed social organization at Yale.
“If we receive significant interest in this initiative, we will proceed with these efforts — and you will have the opportunity to become an inaugural member of an exciting, new community at this University,” the survey reads.
According to Associate Vice President of Student Life Burgwell Howard, the University does not currently have plans to provide funding for the creation of additional coed fraternities.
“We believe in the residential college system, so wherever possible, we want to see how we can incorporate the social interests of students within the existing structures, as opposed to creating additional external structures,” he said.
Howard said that the Dean’s Office is reaching out to students for ideas on how to improve their social experiences on campus and how to use Yale College funds to better support their interests. The University already offers many gender-integrated social spaces for students, he said, and the Schwarzman Center may also offer an alternative place for students to mingle.
Although interest in Fence Club has been on the rise in recent years, students interviewed by the News were divided on how the presence of more coed fraternities would affect Yale’s social scene. Of 18 students polled, 11 said more gender-inclusive spaces like Fence Club would benefit the party culture on campus.
Some students who are not involved in Greek life would be more likely to join coed fraternities, said Zulfiqar Mannan ’20, a member of Engender. Mannan added that there is an unfilled niche for coed spaces at Yale, whereas universities like Dartmouth and Wesleyan have popular party spaces for students of all genders.
Jonathan Kovac ’19 said Greek life as it exists now creates an “unnecessary division” based on gender, and that integration would improve the problems that exist in fraternities.
Emily Slaughter ’21, who attended both Fence Club and sorority rush events, said the environment at Fence was more conducive to meeting new people and felt more relaxed. Having more gender-inclusive fraternities could help alleviate the high demand for membership in Fence Club and give more options to gender nonbinary students, Slaughter said.
And Karissa McCright ’21 said that students tend to associate fraternities with scandals and negative sexual climates. More gender-inclusive fraternities would likely be safer and more respectful environments, she added.
Other students expressed doubt that having more coed social spaces on campus would change Yale’s party scene. Sophia Krohn ’20 said that institutional problems could also exist in coed fraternities, adding that cultural centers already exist as “desexualized, nonexclusive coed social spaces.”
Yale’s first sorority chapter, Kappa Alpha Theta, was established in 1985.
Alice Park | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, March 1: This version of the article has been corrected to reflect that Alpha Delta Phi was the first fraternity to establish a chapter on campus, not Delta Kappa Epsilon. The article also corrected the year in which Fence Club disaffiliated with its national chapter.