As Yale College celebrates 50 years of coeducation, Engender — a student advocacy group — and its lawsuit pushing for gender-integration of frats has evoked mixed responses from students and faculty members alike.
In February, Engender filed a suit against Yale and nine of its fraternities alleging gender discrimination and the creation of a sexually hostile environment. As Engender fights to open fraternity-membership to all genders, students interviewed by the News expressed varying opinions on the purpose of gender-specific spaces and the implications of frats remaining all-male.
“Ever since our case went public, we’ve received messages of support from countless students across campus,” wrote Engender President Ellie Singer ’21 in an email to the News. “Many of them feel unsafe and uncomfortable at fraternities but often just don’t know what other options they have. Student perspectives have been important to us from the beginning. We supported the Social Life and Community Values and Association of American Universities surveys, and their results showed that students are well aware of the dangers frats pose.”
In 2018, about 10 women and nonbinary students requested membership bids from Sigma Phi Epsilon, which opened its rush process to non-males in 2017. Citing national chapter restrictions on accepting women and nonbinary students, SigEp denied membership to female and nonbinary students who submitted bids.
In a hearing earlier this month, Jessica Ellsworth, an appellate litigation partner, at Hogan Lovells defended the University’s motion to dismiss the case. She argued that while Yale is sympathetic towards the plaintiffs, it has no direct control over the fraternities’ off-campus activities. She added the University has worked to address misconduct through education programs and other initiatives.
Several members of Yale’s fraternities did not respond tomultiple requests for comment. In an email to the News, President of SigEp Jeremy Uys ’21 wrote, “Due to the ongoing litigation, the North American Interfraternity Conference is responding on behalf of the chapters at Yale.”
As a new member of Yale’s campus, Iman Iftikhar ’23 said she was surprised that to gain entrance into a frat party, one must either “know someone or be a girl.” Representation in frats isn’t proportional to the representation of the student body at Yale, Iftikhar said.
Iftikhar also speculated whether gender-integration is the solution to this “selective entry-system,” and she questioned the value of all-male fraternities.
“Is the solution letting one girl in? Is that gender integration? Is it forced representation through quotas? Is it a question of opening the rush procedure like SigEp did, or is it a question of having an equal ratio of men to women?” Iftikhar said.
Lecturer in Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies and Associate Director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources Andrew Dowe said he was unsure what the possible implications of fraternities remaining all-male would be.
“It’s impossible to say,” Dowe said. “It’s impossible to anticipate what direction things might move in, but I think that the conversations reflect broader conversations that are happening about many aspects of social life and community across the board. I think a lot of people are more focused on thinking at the macro level which is in many ways reflected in a variety of community spaces rather than focusing in on particular spaces without cause to do so.”
Some students, including Ian Moreau ’21, are vehemently opposed to the existence of frats on campus and also criticize Engender’s efforts.
Moreau said Yale should abolish frats like Swarthmore College did in the spring of this year. He added that men should have gender-specific spaces if they are working to “dismantle the patriarchy.” But he said he does not believe fraternities are serving this function.
“I appreciate Engender’s willingness to address the issue of violent, institutionalized misogyny that exists within Yale’s fraternities, but I think that only seeking gender integration as a sort of panacea to toxic frat culture is a bit misguided,” Moreau said. “Even if all Yale frats were to become coed, they would still have a host of problems, retaining their classist and racist nature. It’s a broader problem with exclusionary spaces at elite institutions. The goal should therefore be to abolish fraternities entirely.”
Isaiah Martinez ’22 told the News that changing frat culture would be an uphill battle. He added that campus concerns regarding this culture are justified. Still, he believes Yale should redirect its focus to supporting spaces like Fence, Yale’s only coed fraternity.
Gabe Broome ’23 said he attended frat events early in his first semester on campus because “frats are fun” but acknowledged that they “do not have a monopoly” on Yale’s social scene.
The chief communication officer of the North American Interfraternity Conference, Todd Shelton, defended the purpose and value of fraternities at Yale and other campuses.
“Fraternities are a flourishing part of the community at Yale and on hundreds of campuses across the United States,” Shelton wrote in an email to the News. “Fraternities provide structure, rules of conduct and discipline for members. Fraternities stress the importance of civic engagement and academic excellence. For first-year college students, fraternities provide friendship and a sense of community.”
Engender was founded in the fall of 2016 to advocate for equity and inclusion at Yale.
Larissa Jimenez | firstname.lastname@example.org