Doug Lanpher, executive director of the national Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, has since last fall been working on plans to unveil a new co-ed social organization associated with DKE, according to two sources close to the situation who provided copies of internal DKE emails and memos to the News Both sources said that Harvard is currently Lanpher’s preferred launch site for the new group.
Two weeks ago, Lanpher met with DKE members at the organization’s Harvard chapter — which has suffered from declining student interest — to discuss the future of the chapter as well as his plan to start a co-ed social group at the school.
“Harvard might be a good place to start,” Lanpher remarked to one colleague in March, in an email provided to the News. “Our chapter is convinced that freshmen are not going to join men’s fraternities … We have a little time if we want to do this, but not a lot of time. We should strike while the iron is hot if we are going to do it.”
Lanpher declined to comment for this story.
According to a proposal circulated among members of the national DKE organization, the fraternity’s plans to launch the co-ed organization — referred to in the documents as “XYZ” — comes in response to “ideological complaints” against college fraternities and other all-male groups. Under the plan, XYZ would be a tax-exempt 501c7 organization and a wholly owned subsidiary of DKE whose membership would include both men and women to “meet the changing needs of the college market.” DKE itself would remain a single-gender organization.
In 2016, Harvard imposed sanctions on students who join single-gender social groups, banning them from holding leadership positions in officially recognized student groups, captaining varsity sports teams and working with Harvard to apply for competitive grants and scholarships.
Harvard officials and Harvard’s DKE chapter did not respond to requests for comment. In recent months, DKE’s Yale chapter has faced a tidal wave of criticism from students in light of sexual assault allegations against fraternity members, including the chapter’s former president.
According to the DKE proposal, creating a co-ed subsidiary would “capitalize on the titanic shifts taking place” on college campuses and provide “a hedge against possible erosion in DKE’s core business.” While fraternities are currently exempt from Title IX rules restricting gender-discriminatory membership practices, the proposal notes, this “could change at any time, as the pressure to restrict fraternities builds on elected officials and administrators.”
Both sources close to the situation said DKE national is divided on the proposal and that Lanpher has struggled to find support for the idea among DKE’s staff and board of trustees. They also said Lanpher views the XYZ group as a cash grab, not a genuine push for a more progressive social landscape.
“Most, if not all, DKE alumni would be offended at the idea of DKE resources being put towards the creation of something new, rather than supporting DKE,” said one of the sources, who is close to DKE headquarters and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Any time that it’s been brought up in staff meetings it’s not well-supported by staff members, but [Lanpher] has shut out staff from this to go his own way.”
In recent years, students have vigorously debated the gender composition of fraternities. Engender, a student group that campaigns to make fraternities gender-inclusive, made national headlines in 2017 for its efforts to integrate Greek life at Yale. In a statement to the News, Engender said DKE’s proposal indicates that fraternities are aware they will inevitably have to adjust their gender policies in response to societal trends.
“The all-male nature of fraternities results in alarmingly high rates of sexual assault, hazing, discrimination, and other harms,” the statement read. “The Yale administration has run out of excuses: even the most regressive organizations concede that the segregated status quo is unsustainable.”
The proposal also discusses concerns that “Social Justice Warriors” might join the co-ed fraternity “only as a method of making a statement,” suggesting that such people should be screened out during the recruitment process.
The source close to DKE’s national headquarters said he does not know the list of schools to which Lanpher is interested in bringing the co-ed group. But, he added, it is possible that Lanpher may try to bring the group to Yale because he hopes to start it up at schools that already have a DKE chapter.
A representative of DKE’s Yale chapter said he had no knowledge of the proposal and expressed doubt that DKE national’s conservative-leaning leadership would spearhead the idea of a co-ed social organization.
DKE’s Harvard chapter was founded in 1851.
Britton O’Daly | firstname.lastname@example.org