Around 150 students signed up to rush Fence this February, marking sustained high student interest for the coed social group on Crown Street.
These numbers mirror those of two years ago, in which Fence Club also saw nearly 150 interested students during spring rush. This figure marked higher interest levels than those of years prior. Despite Fence’s consistently competitive rush process over the past few years, no campus Greek organizations — included in which are four sororities and 11 fraternities — have gone coed. According to a Committee on Social Life and Community Values report released in October 2019, of students who reported dissatisfaction with social options on Yale’s campus, more than 5 percent of students cited a lack of coed or “neutral party spaces.”
“Fence is just a group of people dedicated to having fun,” said Baji Tumendemberel ’22, who joined Fence this past fall. “It’s like a friend group, where you share the same inside jokes with each other, but when you parse out almost every friend group, they’re very different people.”
Fence has been around since 1839, as the Yale chapter of Psi Upsilon. But back then, Fence was simply a male social club on campus. Renamed Fence Club in 1934 after the picket fence that had once encircled Old Campus, it began admitting women in 1972. Going into that year, the group’s membership had dwindled to 20. After the club closed for financial reasons in 1979, the group no longer had a campus presence for nearly 30 years. When it returned, it did so as a coeducational group with no ties to the original organization.
But according to the Committee on Social Life and Community Values report, Fence “was notably mentioned as an exclusive space.”
The Fence rush process, which occurs once at the beginning of each semester, is not affiliated with sorority recruitment or other fraternity rush events, nor does the Yale Panhellenic Council oversee the process. Of the 150 students who registered, around half were still eligible to request a bid this past Monday to fill roughly 20 spots. The presidents of Fence declined to comment for this article.
The popularity of Fence may in part be attributed to the relative absence of coeducational social groups on campus, as well as Fence’s generally positive reputation on campus as a safe and inclusive space.
Earlier this year in January, a Connecticut district court dismissed the majority of claims filed by Engender — a student group that advocates for gender inclusivity on campus. That group brought a lawsuit against Yale as well as nine of its single-gender fraternities in a 2019 lawsuit that tried to force Yale fraternities to admit non-male members.
Wesleyan University announced a rule in the fall of 2014 that ordered all of its fraternities to admit women, including Psi U, the national organization that Fence split ways from in 2009. Harvard administrators admitted a policy in 2016 discouraging the presence of single-gender clubs on campus by banning students in those organizations from becoming leaders of sports teams or campus groups, as well as from receiving university endorsement for fellowships.
Although Fence’s numbers fluctuate slightly from year to year, around 80 students are currently members of Fence. Tumendemberel pointed out that members are bound to few requirements upon entry and consequently have varying levels of engagement and participation with the group.
“I really like Fence because it is a space that really prides itself on really allowing people to be different,” Gabe Hohensee ’22, who is rushing this semester, said. “In comparison, I felt that in other Greek organizations there is an expectation of similarity — similar personalities, similar types of people.”
Engender first filed their lawsuit last February.
Emily Tian | firstname.lastname@example.org