As college campuses continue to be sites of conversation about sexual misconduct and gender inequity, Yale’s own Greek organizations have also been thrust into the public limelight. Allegations made against campus fraternities have triggered particular controversies in the past few years, but some Yale students argue that the very existence of a single-gender social group is fraught. Such allegations include sexual assault, inequal treatment for members of the LGBTQ+ community and Title IX complaints.
One fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, known as DKE for short, made national news in 2010 when pledges chanted obscenities in front of the Yale Women’s Center during the fraternity’s “Hell Week.” After a five-year suspension, the fraternity came under fire once again in 2017, after a female Yale student accused a former DKE President of forcing her to have unprotected sex in his bedroom after a 2016 DKE holiday party, despite her repeated refusal. The accusation let loose a wave of new allegations of sexual harassment and assault, ranging from groping to nonconsensual sex, by various members of DKE.
Although these allegations sparked campus outcry and student boycotts of DKE events, Yale administrators did not issue any further penalties against the fraternity. A review released in January 2019 condemned the sexual and social climate at DKE and advised students not to attend DKE events. Yale’s DKE chapter responded in kind by introducing reforms intended to address concerns about its social environment.
However, because Yale’s fraternities are not formally affiliated with the University at all, University sanctions have fallen on individual students rather than their Greek organization.
“We have say over individual students which is what we emphasized in my letter, but I can’t speak to an outside entity as a group,” Chun said. “I don’t have any power over them.”
Other fraternities have taken it to themselves to address their reputation on campus. LEO, another Yale fraternity that has been dogged by sexual misconduct allegations in the past, disaffiliated from its national organization, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, in August 2018. Some students questioned whether its rebranding effort would have any lasting effect on the fraternity’s culture.
“Everyone I know seems to think SAE and LEO are pretty much the same thing, and it seems more like a superficial name change,” Qusay Omran ’21 said. “I don’t know if there’s been an internal culture change, but it seems like they’re trying.”
A January 2018 Title IX complaint against a Sigma Phi Epsilon sophomore resulted in a new rule: SigEp members implicated in a Title IX/UWC complaint are required to withdraw from the fraternity until the investigation has concluded. However, it is difficult for fraternities to verify whether members are being investigated in the first place.
These organization-level reforms have not satisfied some students, who cite a range of factors — from unequal economic opportunities to LGBTQ+ student alienation — as reasons why Yale’s frats should be gender-integrated. For Engender, a student group founded in the fall of 2016 that advocates for gender equity and inclusivity on Yale’s campus, successes in the past several years have been tempered by frustration.
Following Engender’s lobbying efforts, Sigma Phi Epsilon agreed to open its rush process to female students in the spring of 2017 and 2018, but did not offer any women bids, citing bylaws from the national organization’s regulations.
However, when no further action was taken, Engender Co-directors Anna McNeil ’20, Ry Walker ’20 and Ellie Singer ’21 filed a lawsuit against Yale and nine fraternities in February 2019, on the basis of gender discrimination in violation of Title IX.
The federal class-action complaint accused Yale and its fraternities of fostering a sexually hostile environment, citing the plaintiffs’ specific experiences at fraternity events. However, in January 2020, the District Court of Connecticut dismissed all but one count of the lawsuit, stating that the plaintiffs could not prove that the University had been deliberately indifferent to cases of harassment. The court, however, will continue to hear McNeil’s Title IX complaint, which is based on her first-year counselor’s failure to report McNeil’s experience being groped, multiple times, at a 2016 fraternity party.
“Anna McNeil’s factual allegations here in support of her Title IX claim, while limited, plausibly suggest that a Yale official may have been indifferent to the allegedly hostile educational environment she experienced,” the court’s ruling read.
Although most of Engender’s advocacy has been targeted at fraternities thus far, the group said in a statement to the News that it is interested in making Yale events and spaces accessible to all Yale students, regardless of gender, race, class or sexuality.
“We hope to work with as many of Yale’s fraternities and other student groups as possible to develop a more inclusive and equitable campus climate,” they wrote in a statement to the News.
College administrators have not taken a uniform stance on the existence of single-gender organizations. Some, like Harvard, ban them outright, while others exercise various degrees of oversight over on-campus Greek life.
Students on campus have also shown sustained interest in alternative social organizations to fraternities, and rush numbers have been consistently high for Yale’s sole coed fraternity, Fence Club.
Fence Club became gender-integrated in 2009.
Emily Tian | firstname.lastname@example.org