Yale Daily News
It has been one year since the Edon Club formally rushed its first class of women, and the group is still grappling with its role — either as a “frat with girls” or an environment where all genders feel comfortable.
Formerly known as SigEp, the fraternity disaffiliated from Sigma Phi Epsilon nationals and announced its intention to open membership to all genders in October 2020. An initial cohort of women was recruited to join the group shortly after, and the newly-dubbed Edon Club’s first formal all-gender rush concluded in March 2021.
The year since has seen the expansion of the group’s non-male cohort and ongoing discussion within the group and around campus about the presence of women in a formerly all-male environment. Seven members of the organization reflected on how Edon has culturally and structurally changed — and stayed the same — in the past year.
“I think the female membership has made a huge difference in Edon’s culture,” social co-chair Lucy Harvey ’24 said. “…I don’t think we’re done. Just becoming all-gender — I don’t think that’s enough, necessarily.”
Although four women in Edon described the steps the group is taking towards creating a safe environment, ten non-men who are not in the group told the News that they do not feel safer at parties in the club than at its surrounding High Street fraternities.
When SigEp first rebranded as Edon in fall 2020, six women, all members of the class of 2022, were recruited to join. Of the original group, two were elected to executive board positions and others were heavily involved with the spring 2021 rush process.
Nathan Somerville ’22, who was the group’s president at the time of the change, told the News that the group wanted to initiate women before running an all-gender rush process so as to have female voices present when making decisions about rush and the broader process of gender integration.
“Simply, in not being women we were not capable of highlighting what needed to change throughout the coeducation process, and their voices were critical and influential in forming the group we have today,” Somerville said.
In March 2021, 12 sophomore women pledged to join Edon in the group’s first formal all-gender rush process. Since then, Edon has seen two more all-gender recruitments. According to Somerville, the group offered 32 total bids in fall 2021 and 28 in the spring 2022 rush process, which wrapped up in February.
Seventeen of the 32 fall pledges and 16 of the 28 spring pledges were women, Somerville said. He added that the group’s all-gender status contributed to the popularity it saw in the spring recruitment process — over 180 people signed up for the rush process at the start of the semester.
“The high interest is simply because there’s nothing quite like it on campus, a coed social club that actively hosts events and mixers and has a tight knit community,” Somerville said.
Four women who joined Edon in fall 2021 told the News that their experience in the group has largely been a positive one. Two of these four said that Edon’s status as one of the few all-gender social spaces on campus was what drew them to the group.
But Edon’s gender integration efforts came under scrutiny after a piece by Serena Lin ’23, titled “Can Women Fix Fraternities?” appeared in The Cut in October 2021. Lin, a member of the second cohort of women to join the organization, described the nuanced responsibilities associated with being a woman in Edon.
Lin referred specifically to one incident, when someone who had repeatedly harassed a club member was allowed entry to an Edon party by another member, “despite knowing their history.” Lin found herself consoling her friend in the bathroom, “struck, even in that moment, by our naïveté, our blindness to the broader problem.”
Lin did not respond to three requests for comment for this article.
SigEp had a history of sexual misconduct before going all-gender. In 2018, a formal Title IX complaint was filed against a SigEp member alleging sexual misconduct, and the member did not leave the fraternity until he was suspended from Yale three months later. One year before this accusation, another SigEp member was expelled for alleged sexual misconduct.
When faced with the task of resolving questions of misogyny and sexual misconduct in organizations with a history like Edon’s, Lin wrote, non-male members “go back to the party.”
“A lot of people on campus were talking about it,” Lucy Santiago ’24, who wrote “On Going Back to the Party,” told the News. “[Lin’s] piece really doesn’t come to much of a conclusion other than saying there’s nothing we can do about the culture of fraternities, and I think that that’s wrong.”
On a personal level, Santiago said that she feels that those willing to partake in benefits of exclusive social groups like Edon should be willing to assume some responsibility for the actions of other members of the group.
If Edon is a “frat with girls in it,” Santiago added, its members need to recognize that fraternities on campus are “inescapably tied” to a culture of sexual misconduct.
“If you are willing to associate with people in such a close way that you’re willing to call them your brothers, and then step away and say, ‘I actually don’t think that what they’re doing is right, but I’m also not going to call them out on it because we can’t change the way that they are,’ I think that puts [groups like Edon] on way too much of a pedestal,” Santiago said. “It doesn’t really understand that they’re human institutions that have the power to change and are just choosing not to.”
The impact of Lin’s piece was felt in Edon too, Harvey told the News.
“I really strongly disagree with the sentiment that was published in the Cut article,” Harvey said. “A lot of women in Edon really didn’t like that article and really disagree with that sentiment. Like, no, we don’t just go back to the party. We are actively doing things in order to make this a safer space.”
Harvey said that the presence of women and non-binary members in Edon alone makes a difference in the culture of the social club, and that having women work the door and bar during parties signifies to attendees that women are putting care into making it a safe environment.
Edon, Harvey said, has set safety protocols for when attendees have too much to drink or if they need to be walked home. The group also has an anonymous reporting form and coordinates a blacklist with other social clubs on campus, Harvey added.
Sidney Velasquez ’24, who joined Edon in fall 2021, told the News that they entered the group with changes for the next rush class in mind. Velasquez, who now serves as Edon’s Development Co-Chair, said that her work included revising rush activities and interactions to be “less traditionally masculine.” She hopes that changes make women and other marginalized groups feel welcome, rather than like they “have to acclimate to another culture.”
Among the changes made recently, Edon Interim Chaplain Zoe Kanga ’24 said, are the elimination of “eating or physically strenuous activities” in the rush process. Kanga also stressed that almost all rush activities are optional.
“The activities we have them do and the way we interact with the new class is a lot more from a place of, ‘Let’s just build this really tight group of 28 kids,’ as opposed to, ‘We’re doing this frat stuff,’” Velasquez said. “I don’t think that that’s the direction that Edon is going in.”
But for some women who are not members of the group, Edon’s all-gender status does not affect how safe they feel when they attend its parties.
Although Santiago said she rarely goes out to fraternity parties herself, her close friends who do have described the Edon party atmosphere as “pretty much exactly the same” to other Yale fraternities.
“One of my friends has started calling it SigEp instead of Edon, because that’s what it is,” Santiago said. “It’s a frat. We shouldn’t pretend that it’s not.”
Of 14 non-men interviewed by the News who are not affiliated with Edon, ten said that they did not feel more comfortable at Edon than at Yale’s all-male fraternities.
“There is no way to fully separate our club from the history of the space that we occupy, which is why we put extra effort to ensure the safety of all of our members and guests,” Edon President Watts Erb ’24 wrote in an email to the News. “Since its creation, the Edon Club has worked diligently with its female and gender non-conforming members to make Edon a safer space for members and guests. Since this process is fluid, we are constantly reassessing our impact and changes are regularly being made to make our space as safe and inclusive as possible.”
Operationally, Somerville said, Edon has largely kept the same structure that was in place when the group was an exclusively male fraternity. The mixers and member-only events that the group holds are run “nearly the same way, except now it’s not just men doing it,” Somerville said.
For Kanga, retaining certain social elements of Edon’s fraternity past is not necessarily a concern.
“Fratty doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” Kanga wrote to the News. “I hate to assume that hosting parties, drinking games, and having fun are activities reserved for men.”
But Edon Development Co-Chair Sophie Wright ’24 said that “while the structure of Edon has some resemblance to SigEp, the culture has changed.”
Kiran Sampath ’23, one of the original six women who joined Edon, agreed that the culture in the group has evolved as the cohort of women has expanded. Now, Sampath said, it almost feels “like not really a gendered space at all.”
Somerville told the News that he doubted any of Yale’s other fraternities would imminently go all gender. Because accepting all genders requires fraternities to disaffiliate from their national organizations, Somerville explained, the decision has significant financial implications that may be stopping other groups from taking the step.
Harvey said that disconnecting Edon from a culture of sexual misconduct is an ongoing process that she and fellow Edon women continue to undertake.
“I’ve been through it, and a lot of women in Edon have,” Harvey said. “I think that’s part of why it’s really important to continue making these spaces safe. It’s really hard.”
The Edon Club is located at 31 High St.
Correction, March 7: A previous version of this article identified the 14 non-Edon members as “women.” The article has updated the language to “non-men” to more accurately identify those who were interviewed by the News.