Noah Cirisoli, Contributing Photographer

After months of advocacy, a longstanding gender quota that aimed to increase female participation in Yale’s intramural sports has been removed to improve inclusivity for transgender and non-binary students.

The IM gender quota, instituted in 1978 with the goal of boosting female participation, required a specific number of women to play in every intramural game. But students said that the gender categories and requirements left out transgender and non-binary students. Since the gender quota meant that players had to keep track of the number of women and men on any given team, students were often categorized by gender.

“But what if I’m neither?” a Branford student — who was granted anonymity due to concerns for personal safety due to their family not knowing their gender identity — first asked when they tried to sign up for IMs. 

Greeted with a spreadsheet separated into two categories — male and female — the student, who does not identify as either, said they did not feel comfortable signing up in either of the categories listed, and so decided not to participate. Now, with the removal of gender requirements, Google Forms and spreadsheets used for signing up will not ask participants to sign up within a specific gender identity. 

Discussions that led to the new policy began in September, when a student submitted an anonymous query to the Branford College Council stating that the gender categories used for IM participation felt “isolating” for transgender and non-binary students.

After receiving this comment, IM Event Manager Josie Schmidt, Head IM Secretary Grayson Phillips ’24, Branford Title IX coordinators and IM secretaries from several residential colleges convened to reconsider the gender requirement policy. 

“It was becoming increasingly clear that current policies, both in their wording and, more pressingly, in their application, were leading to a sense of exclusion or apprehension around intramural participation, which is the diametric opposite of the culture we are striving to foster,” Phillips wrote to the News.

After months of discussion starting early last semester and spearheaded by Schmidt, IM secretaries and Title IX coordinators met after the fall IM season ended. Before the winter IM season began, they collectively agreed that a shift in the gender quota policy was “necessary,” Phillips said.

But, according to Maria Trumpler, senior lecturer of women’s, gender and sexuality studies and the founding director of Yale’s Office of LGBTQ Resources, discussions stemming from the September complaint were not the beginning of this conversation. Since the start of her work in 2005 to increase equality and belonging for people of all genders at Yale, she said that IMs have been a point of contention, and there have been ongoing discussions on how to make them more inclusive. With IMs being student-run, decentralized and with frequent position turnovers, Trumpler said real change has been hard to coordinate. 

“I think it’s huge,” Trumpler told the News in reference to the removal of gender requirements. “It’s one of the last places … in undergraduate culture or practice that there’s pressure to identify as male or female … and not another gender, and so to take that away is huge, and to give everybody access to the benefits of intramural sports.”

Four of the students who spoke to the News also expressed that gender quotas were not effective even for their primary goal: to welcome women onto the teams. 

Before the recent policy change, there was a maximum and minimum number of women and men who could play on each team. For example, for some large sports, there could not be more than seven players who identify as either male or female, and no fewer than two who signed up as the other gender. According to the Brandford IM secretaries, often teams had trouble finding the number of women necessary to play, and not wanting to forfeit, pressure could be put on women to join an IM game.

James Larson ’22, who was a photo editor for the News and has been a Branford IM secretary since 2017, posted in the IM secretary GroupMe about how IM secretaries would sometimes “guilt trip” women to participate so their team did not have to forfeit.

“This isn’t fun for either party, as the IM secs obviously don’t like being annoying but want to do their job, and puts the women in an unfair position where they feel like they have to choose between doing what’s best for them on a particular night (e.g., doing homework, going to another extracurricular, taking a personal day, etc.) and letting down the team,” Larson wrote in the GroupMe post. “The removal of gender requirements takes the pressure off of both sides.”

Anika Seth ’25, a staff reporter at the News and a Branford Title IX coordinator, noted that on top of being isolating for transgender and non-binary students, gender requirements can be isolating towards cis gender female students, too.

“Many times these cis female athletes will be tokenized on the field, only there because they have to fill a quota to allow the team not to forfeit, but then never passed the ball,” they said.

But ending the gender quota also brings up larger concerns about participation of women in IMs. While three students mentioned the concern that without the quota, IMs could become dominated by cis gender men, according to Seth, this is due to larger cultural issues that need to be addressed, and the gender requirements were not helping to improve these issues.

Mary Callanan ’23, a Saybrook IM secretary, said that despite the end of the gender requirements, her focus is still on fielding women and trying to get them to come to games. Callanan was an active proponent of the end of the gender requirements, and believes the change is key to a more inclusionary space, and one where “we don’t have to misgender our athletes.” She added that she believes the push for women to get involved in IMs should continue.

Beyond the end of gender requirements, those who spoke to the News discussed alternate policy changes that should be considered, such as centralizing the sign-up system, providing diversity and inclusion training for IM secretaries and putting policies in place to make sure colleges are not regularly fielding all-male teams.

“Simply abolishing the quota is by no means enough to spark inclusive engagement in sports because of how cis male dominated they are,” Seth said.

Max Velasco ’25, Branford IM secretary, said that ultimately, the goal of intramurals is to be an inclusive space for students to have fun, and where everyone, no matter their gender identity, can participate and compete. A place, he said, where “everyone feels welcome to come play.”

The full IM schedule for the winter season is available on the Yale Intramurals website

Tigerlily Hopson covers diversity and inclusion at Yale. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a junior in Berkeley majoring in English.