Since it was founded in 2016, Engender, a student group that advocates coeducating Yale’s social organizations, has pushed to end the phenomenon of all-male fraternities on Yale’s campus. But the role of sororities in this campaign to integrate single-gender spaces has been less clear.

Engender led a forum on Sunday afternoon in the Women’s Center to discuss the role of sororities in Yale’s social scene and sexual climate. About 30 students, including some sorority members but mostly members of Engender, attended the forum. Attendees of the discussion were divided on whether sororities serve as truly empowering spaces for women at Yale, given the way they interact with fraternities and their inability to host parties.

“Sororities occupy an adjacent and analogous space to fraternities, so we’re interested in sourcing public opinion about sororities’ role and influence on Yale’s campus,” said Jojo Attal ’21, director of community partnership for Engender.

Jazzie Kennedy ’20 said she has found a great support system in her sorority, Alpha Phi, but is frustrated that sororities depend on fraternities as their main party space, which gives the all-male groups a disproportional amount of power in social environments. Kennedy said that members of her sorority feel pressured to increase attendance at mixers or else these “fraternities won’t want to mix with us.”

Will McGrew ’18, a co-director of Engender, said that because sororities frequently mix with fraternities at social events, they reinforce a power structure that can be harmful to women and gender nonbinary, queer and transgender students.

“How can you be an empowerment space or justify the existence of your space if most of your social events are structured around working with all male groups that everyone kind of agrees to be hostile for women?” McGrew said.

Sororities are restricted by their national organizations from hosting social functions with alcohol. The National Panhellenic Conference, which oversees 26 national sororities, including the four at Yale, prohibits Panhellenic-sponsored or planned events from involving alcohol.

Because sororities depend on fraternities to invite them to parties, sororities end up selecting members who fit a certain stereotype so that their groups remain desirable to fraternity brothers, McGrew said.

Many students at the event agreed that the recruitment process for sororities places too much value on women’s physical appearances and wealth. Sorority recruitment is a formalized process in which students rush all four of Yale’s sororities and eventually receive a bid from one.

While members of sororities often claim to look for strong values in prospective members, Kennedy said, many do not like to admit they also look for physically attractive women who seem fun and have a good presence on social media.

“I think there is a critical mass of girls in sororities who don’t want to address that because addressing it means we have to change,” Kennedy said.

Natalie Schultz-Henry ’20, a former member of Alpha Phi and a co-director of Engender, agreed that during the rush process, most Alpha Phi members would look for the “richest, most physically fit women” even though these were not officially agreed upon criteria. And Anna McNeil ’20, another Engender co-director who rushed SigEp the past two years with Engender, noted that sororities lack distinct identities while many fraternities are affiliated with sports teams and have specific personality types. As a result, she said, sororities seem to differentiate themselves based on attractiveness.

Alpha Phi President Mary Catherine Fletcher ’19 said that it is “completely untrue that Alpha Phi places more emphasis on girls’ appearances than their actual personality and achievements.” She added that all potential new members are encouraged to wear a recruitment shirt provided during the first round of rush to create more equality in attire, and Alpha Phi focuses primarily on the “quality of conversation” during each recruitment round when considering new members.

Still, Teni Lanre-Amos ’19 said many members of her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, are also frustrated by these issues and are being “way more intentional” in whom they accept into the sorority. She said that as a black woman who does not fit into the stereotypical image of a wealthy sorority girl, joining Pi Phi required a “real mental shift.”

Still, Nia Berrian ’19 noted that all exclusive social groups must choose new members based on certain criteria, and even if sororities and fraternities were to coeducate or disaffiliate from their national organizations, the issue of selecting members equitably would still exist.

Engender’s co-directors said they would like to partner with sororities to make Yale’s social spaces more inclusive. They raised the idea of holding a “weekend without women” in which students would boycott fraternities and attend an alternative party to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Yale’s newest sorority, Alpha Phi, was established in 2015.

Alice Park | alice.park@yale.edu