As college campuses across the country debate the merits of single-gender Greek organizations, Yale’s fraternities have drawn national attention for controversies of racism, gender discrimination and sexual violence — culminating in a recent lawsuit that was ultimately dismissed on all but one count.
In February 2019, Ry Walker ’20, Anna McNeil ’20 and Ellie Singer ’21 filed a federal class-action complaint against the University, accusing Yale and nine of its fraternities of discriminating on the basis of gender, fostering a sexually hostile climate and violating Title IX laws. The three students are all founding members of Engender — a group aiming for complete gender integration of Yale’s Greek organizations, citing the inherent harm of “gender segregationist policies.” In June, the defendants — Yale, nine fraternities and the housing corporations for 340 Elm St. and 402 Crown St. — filed four motions to dismiss the complaint. Engender’s attorneys filed four oppositions to these motions in July, which were heard in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on Oct. 15.
This February, the District Court of Connecticut dismissed all but one count of Engender’s lawsuit. The court stated that the plaintiffs could not prove that the University had exercised “deliberate indifference” to known acts of harassment, since the University plays no official role in supervising fraternities.
“Female candidates who would otherwise satisfy the criteria for admission are denied membership in the fraternities,” read the plaintiffs’ opposition to the fraternities’ motion to dismiss. “Being a woman is an automatic and fatal disqualifier.”
The remaining count is a Title IX complaint relating to McNeil’s original allegation of being groped multiple times at a fraternity party in 2016. The other eight counts — including a federal Fair Housing Act claim and discrimination in places of public accommodation — were dismissed.
In the springs of 2017 and 2018, Engender members requested access to the rush process of Yale’s fraternities on behalf of women and nonbinary students, but were only able to participate in one chapter’s gender-integrated rush.
“Regardless of the Court’s decision, Engender will continue its efforts to promote equity and inclusion at Yale,” wrote the plaintiffs in a February email to the News. “We have helped support alternative party spaces, we have been advocates, and we plan to continue doing all of these things.”
The Engender suit followed years of controversy surrounding Greek life at Yale.
In October 2010, pledges of Yale’s Delta Kappa Epsilon chapter chanted “no means yes, yes means anal” outside the Women’s Center. Following the incident, the Yale College Executive Committee implemented a five-year ban on DKE. The fraternity was prohibited from associating with Yale, holding on-campus events and using Yale emails to communicate with students.
After a visiting Columbia student accused another Yale fraternity — Sigma Alpha Epsilon — of hosting a “white girls only” party, intense campus protests resulted in a Dean’s Office investigation that found no evidence of “systemic discrimination against people of color.” Two years later, after SAE formally changed its name to LEO, another visiting student wrote on Facebook that she and her friends had been turned away from a LEO party on a racial basis, garnering more than 480 comments on the post.
In January 2018, the News and Business Insider documented allegations of rape against two former members of DKE — including the former chapter president. DKE subsequently suspended social activities on campus and met with administrators and student groups to improve their sexual climate. After DKE’s second disappearance from campus life, the News published stories from eight additional undergraduate women who alleged sexual misconduct by chapter members — as well as more than 30 interviews with first-year counselors, sorority members and Communication and Consent Educators.
The majority of interviewees agreed that the institutional culture of the fraternity had not shifted since the ban.
Chun announced in February 2018 that the Yale deputy Title IX coordinator would conduct an investigation of “concerns alleging a hostile sexual environment” at DKE and released a survey in January 2019, which focused on DKE but also addressed broader concerns about Greek organizations. The around 200 survey respondents condemned DKE parties as dirty spaces full of extremely heavy drinking and aggressive grinding.
In his email, Chun advised students to no longer attend DKE parties. He noted that he did not have the power to sanction fraternities as independent organizations and issued no penalties against the fraternity.
“I can’t speak to an outside entity as a group,” Chun said in a January 2019 interview with the News. “I don’t have any power over them.”
The report did not examine the specific sexual assault allegations against DKE members, instead focusing on student perceptions of DKE and Yale fraternities in general.
“Students reported that fraternities maintain significant social capital on campus, and this creates a sense of exclusivity that students simultaneously desire and deride,” the report reads.
The nine fraternities implicated in the Engender case were Alpha Epsilon Pi, Alpha Delta Phi, Chi Psi, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Epsilon/LEO, Sigma Chi, Sigma Nu, Sigma Phi Epsilon and Zeta Psi.
Ella Goldblum | firstname.lastname@example.org