On April 8, a female student, who asked to remain anonymous, received a text from an unknown phone number while she was studying in the library: A former sexual partner had tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, the message said, recommending that she also get tested.
Roughly a week later, she realized that the text had been a prank.
“I was so freaked out, and I was so nervous about it,” she said, adding that she skipped class to get tested at Yale Health later that week. “It made me so mad that someone had intentionally targeted me … It makes me wonder whether they were trying to slut-shame me.”
But the anonymous student was not the only person whose phone lit up with the message that evening. More than a dozen male and female students also received the fake texts, which were sent through a website that anonymously sends sexually transmitted infection test notifications. The incident was eventually traced to two students in the sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, and two in the sorority, Pi Beta Phi.
But the sororities diverged in their response to the incident of alleged misconduct. While the two Theta members resigned after a sorority vote recommended their dismissal in April, the other two students remain members of Pi Phi. The News granted the four students’ request to remain anonymous in this story because they are not public figures on campus.
Over the past year, fraternities at Yale have come under fire for allegations of sexual misconduct against their members and their handling of those complaints. Yet the STI texting incident highlights how sororities, just like their male counterparts, grapple with misconduct perpetrated by their own members.
In a statement to the News in April, the four students involved in sending the STI notifications — who spoke on the condition of anonymity — said the sororities took the incident seriously, “despite the fact that the conduct in question did not occur at the sorority nor was in any way connected to a sorority activity.” The women added that both sororities initiated a “formal disciplinary process” to adjudicate the incident.
However, on Tuesday, one of the Pi Phi members who was implicated told the News the incident did not “fall under Pi Phi’s jurisdiction” since no complaint was ever filed with Yale or with Pi Phi leadership. She added that the members were not reprimanded by the sorority.
“There wasn’t any disciplinary process at Pi Phi because no one complained about it,” the student said. “It’s not that Pi Phi wasn’t accountable, but for Theta … someone complained.”
In late April, Theta members held a chapter-wide vote, overseen by a representative from their national organization, on whether the entire sorority would recommend the termination of the two students’ membership. For such a recommendation to pass, Theta’s bylaws require the affirmative vote of three-fourths of chapter members in attendance, according to an email sent to Theta members on April 25 regarding the STI incident. The sorority ultimately voted in favor of the recommendation for the members’ dismissal, but proceeding with the disciplinary response would have required action from Theta’s national organization. The two students left voluntarily, according to a Theta member who requested anonymity to speak about the situation.
In an email to the News, Theta President Miranda Duster ’19 said that she is “unable to comment on any matter that involves internal investigations within our organization.” Pi Phi President Paige Vermeer ’19 also declined to comment. Both Duster and Vermeer were presidents of their organizations when the texting incident occurred.
According to the sorority members involved in the incident, the texts represented a fraction of many identical messages circulating around the student body. One of the Pi Phi members said she and the other three sorority members connected to the incident were “scapegoated” for messages that they did not send. The statement from the sorority members said they had also received STI notification texts as early as last November, and the only reason their identities became public was because one of the women “self-identified.”
“All the recipients knew immediately or promptly that the texts were fake, given how widespread the practice of the prank had been on campus,” the four students wrote in their statements. “Given that all other texts were anonymous, many recipients have erroneously assumed that the text they received were from [us].”
The Pi Phi member also argued that the texting did not fall under Yale’s policy on sexual harassment. According to University policy, sexual harassment is defined, among other qualifications, as “verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature on or off campus,” including when it creates an “intimidating or hostile academic or work environment.”
While fraternities, such as Delta Kappa Epsilon, have been criticized for hostile sexual climates, their female counterparts have flown under the radar in the midst of the #MeToo movement.
This August, an open letter published in the News by an anonymous author, unaffiliated with any Greek organization, contained a graphic account of a sexual assault perpetrated by a then-member of the Alpha Phi sorority, according to three students close to the author. It remains unclear whether the alleged assailant is still currently a member of the sorority.
“You deny your culpability. You think of yourself as a feminist, an activist, nothing like the DKE boys who people expect to be sexual predators,” the letter read. “You think you can’t be a rapist because you’re a woman. You refuse to believe that you hurt me at all.”
After the alleged victim filed a formal complaint with the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct last year, the Alpha Phi member was not found responsible for violating Yale’s policy on sexual misconduct, according to the students close to the author. Still, it remains unclear whether Alpha Phi’s leadership was aware of the allegation or that a complaint had been filed against a member of the sorority. Per University rules, all UWC and Title IX proceedings must be kept confidential.
Three current members of Alpha Phi said they were unaware of any sexual misconduct allegations levied against another member of the sorority. Ellen Rothschild, Alpha Phi’s chapter advisor, declined to comment on the chapter’s behalf. The chapter’s president, Mary Catherine Fletcher ’19, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Jazzie Kennedy ’20, a current member and former board member of Alpha Phi, said the sorority has a judicial board that responds to incidents of misconduct and administers disciplinary actions. Still, Kennedy said she was unaware of any sexual misconduct allegations against a member of Alpha Phi.
“I’ve never heard of anyone in APhi being accused of sexual assault,” Kennedy said. “I really hope no one was.”
The alleged assailant is no longer a member of Alpha Phi’s group chat, according to Kennedy.
Due to the confidentiality of Yale’s sexual misconduct adjudications, Greek organizations have struggled to verify the existence of formal UWC complaints facing their own members.
Yale Panhellenic Council President Lucy Friedmann ’19 said the council does not interfere in matters relating to sexual misconduct, and that “it is up to the individual sororities to handle as they see fit.”
However, in 2017, the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon implemented a rule to address this ambiguity. That spring, SigEp expelled a member after several students notified the fraternity’s leadership that he was being investigated by Yale for an allegation of sexual misconduct. Several weeks later, the University found the student responsible for the allegation and suspended him. After his expulsion from the fraternity, SigEp began requiring that members facing UWC complaints notify fraternity leadership of their situation and withdraw from SigEp pending a decision from the University.
“If a member fails to withdraw from SigEp in the event of a Title IX/UWC investigation, regardless of the result of the investigation, the member is expelled from the fraternity,” SigEp leadership said in a statement this spring.
However, in April — the same month that the STI texts were sent — one SigEp member was suspended by Yale for sexual misconduct and left the fraternity around the same time. Disregarding the rule, this student waited three months after the Title IX complaint was filed before withdrawing from SigEp for what fraternity representatives said were “personal reasons,” which the fraternity’s leadership did not know were related to sexual misconduct.
Representatives of Yale’s four sororities — Alpha Phi, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Pi Phi and Theta — did not respond when asked whether their organizations have rules similar to SigEp’s requirement that members recuse themselves during Title IX investigations.
Yale received 154 complaints of sexual misconduct between Jan. 1 and June 30 of this year, three of which involved two females.
Alice Park | email@example.com
Clarification, October 11: This article has been updated to more clearly state that the texts advising students to be tested for STIs had been sent as pranks.