Last week, after 109 years as an all-male group, the Whiffenpoofs finally welcomed a woman to their ranks. While the addition of Sofía Campoamor ’19 may not significantly change the sound of the group, the opening of both of Yale’s senior a cappella groups to singers of all genders is a watershed moment for progress in this institution.
The Whiffenpoofs represent classic, establishment Yale. The group is the face of Yale on its tours around the world. Its history is long, storied — and, until now, all-male. Indeed, over the past few decades, the Whiffs voted several times to uphold a policy that prohibited women and gender nonbinary people from joining the group. The reversal of this policy earlier this month — and the tangible success of that reform in the Whiffs’ decision to admit its first female singer — is historic.
While Campoamor broke the glass ceiling, we acknowledge that the Whiffs admitted her for her voice, not her gender — this is not a question of equality of outcome but rather a question of equality of opportunity. While it is certainly reasonable to expect that a handful of women over the next few years will personally benefit from this policy change, its broader significance — symbolically and logistically — resonates.
Whim ’n Rhythm also voted to accept auditions from students of all genders, a decision worth applauding, even if the group’s gender makeup this year is unchanged from that of previous years. In addition, credit is due to the Duke’s Men, who announced a similar policy change at the beginning of this year and inducted an all-gender tap class this fall. The Whiffs are hardly the only group at Yale grappling with questions of inclusivity, and we hope that the sweeping policy changes of the past year are part of a broader moment of reckoning and reflection.
Shattering a glass ceiling is not necessarily equalizing. Whim ’n Rhythm was created to be an alternative — albeit a younger and therefore less prestigious one — to the Whiffs shortly after women arrived at Yale. The two counterparts have historically had a lot in common as single-gender, senior-only, highly selective a cappella groups. Still, Whim has presumably not had access to the same resources and opportunities as the storied Whiffs. The tide seems to be changing, as the two groups decided in conjunction to open up auditions, and have since spoken publicly about possibly increasing financial and logistical collaboration. This is perhaps indicative of a more equitable relationship between the groups, a change that has so far been lauded by students and alumni alike.
This latest news from Whim and the Whiffs is not happening in a vacuum, and is part of a much larger conversation about inclusivity and single-gender spaces at Yale and beyond. Debates about the future of these kinds of spaces are practically ubiquitous today, and questions have been raised that may not immediately be answered. What we do know is that we have seen a policy change enacted which prompted timely, tangible results, and that is refreshing.
We applaud the decision of the Whiffs and Whim, and we don’t know what the future holds for them and other single-gender organizations on campus. But we know this: Their significant move toward equality of opportunity for people of all genders holds promise. We are confident that they have set a tone, and that they and other student groups will continue to thoughtfully and deliberately make decisions that shape a more inclusive, more equitable Yale.