Over the past five years, Amherst College, Wesleyan University and Harvard have all taken action against single-gender student organizations. But at Yale, even as single-gender spaces come under fire amid allegations of sexual misconduct against fraternities and a push to diversify a capella groups, the University administration has refrained from regulating the membership policies of social organizations.
Last December, the Harvard Corporation voted to approve sanctions on students that join single-gender social groups. The policy prohibits any student in a single-gender final club, fraternity or sorority from assuming a leadership position in a recognized student group, becoming a varsity team captain or receiving the college’s endorsement for a fellowship. But unlike Faust, University President Peter Salovey has avoided taking a heavy-handed approach.
Asked whether the University has ever considered adopting a similar policy to the one at Harvard, Salovey said that Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun is responsible for overseeing Yale’s undergraduate social organizations. In a statement to the News, Chun said Yale is not considering implementing sanctions that mirror those at Harvard. But, he added, the newly established Yale College Committee on Social Life and Community Values will review issues surrounding campus culture and make suggestions to the administration accordingly.
“We have to recognize that every campus is different, and social groups on different campuses play different roles on those campuses,” Salovey said. “So, for example, senior societies at Yale are coed. Final clubs at Harvard are not. I do think it’s important for the dean of Yale College to always assess the healthiness and the contribution to student health and development of all kinds of groups on campus. Those could be Greek letter organizations, but they also could be singing groups. They could be athletic teams.”
Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Engagement Burgwell Howard said in an email that Yale has no interest in “copying the approach that Harvard has chosen as we are more interested in addressing the needs of OUR community and crafting approaches that will work for our student groups and organizations.”
He added that students should decide for themselves on the value of single-gender and all-gender groups.
The sanctions imposed on Harvard’s single-gender social groups were initially accepted by Faust in May 2016, after the University president received recommendations from the dean of Harvard College.
“Although the fraternities, sororities and final clubs are not formally recognized by the college, they play an unmistakable and growing role in student life, in many cases enacting forms of privilege and exclusion at odds with our deepest values,” Faust wrote in an email to undergraduates.
In a statement to the News, William Foran, vice president of campus operations for the North-American Interfraternity Conference, said that Harvard’s policy violates student rights and denies students by limiting access to other opportunities and leadership roles.
The legality of restrictions on single-gender groups, like those in place at Harvard or Wesleyan — which banned all-male fraternities in 2014 — remains unclear.
After Wesleyan forced the college’s Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter to close its doors in 2015 — as punishment when the chapter did not propose an adequate plan for gender integration — the fraternity sued the University. Last summer, a jury ruled in favor of the fraternity, forcing Wesleyan to pay $386,000 in damages to DKE’s Wesleyan alumni chapter, the Kent Literary Club.
The case is ongoing, but the initial decision allows the fraternity to seek “equitable relief” to argue for reinstatement at Wesleyan.
For its part, the DKE chapter at Yale has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks. Last month, the News published an investigation detailing allegations of sexual misconduct against the DKE fraternity by eight women, and two days later, the University announced that Deputy Title IX Coordinator Jason Killheffer would conduct a review of allegations against the chapter. At the same time, Chun charged the new Yale College Committee on Social Life and Community Values with making recommendations to improve campus culture.
DKE’s Yale chapter suspended all social activities for roughly a month at the beginning of the semester amid allegations of sexual misconduct. But it will soon return to business as usual after receiving the green light from its national organization to start throwing parties again.
Students interviewed by the News expressed skepticism about the prospect of Yale regulating the membership of social groups, with some saying that any changes are likely to be more significant if students spearhead them.
“Having less single-gendered groups would be good for Yale,” Rachel Perler ’17 SPH ’18 said. “That kind of a shift would be through mobilizing students. If it feels coerced, people might object to sanctions. It would be better to organize students to desegregate gender spaces.”
But as the administration steers clear of regulating the membership policies of single-gender groups, many students at Yale have taken it upon themselves to promote the cause of gender integration.
This year, for the second time in a row, female and gender non-binary students rushed the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. Most of the 10 students who rushed this year belong to Engender, a student group that advocates for the gender integration of fraternities and other social spaces. Earlier this fall, Howard advised all fraternities to allow students to attend rush events regardless of their gender.
“Harvard’s policy is a promising one,” said Engender codirector Anna McNeil ’20. “It’s also the administration recognizing that gender segregation contributes to gravely negative campus cultures, a connection Yale’s administration has yet to explicity make.”
Last month, Yale’s two senior a cappella groups, the Whiffenpoofs and Whim ‘n Rhythm, announced that they would begin considering singers of all genders for admission. And two weeks later, the Whiffenpoofs admitted a woman for the first time in its 109-year history.
Another historically all-male a capella group, the Duke’s Men of Yale, inducted its first all-gender class last fall.
Hailey Fuchs | firstname.lastname@example.org