Three female students have filed a lawsuit against Yale University and its fraternities in an effort to force the fraternities to accept women. These same three women say the fraternities are a haven for sexual harassment and violence.
While Yale is a private institution, this lawsuit raises concerns for many about the freedom of association on campus.
The lawsuit alleges that its necessity arises from the fact that fraternities dominate the social scene at Yale, however, a Yale College Council report stated that only about a tenth of all Yale students are involved in Greek Life.
The three female students—Anna McNeil, Ry Walker, and Ellie Singer, all said that they have been sexually assaulted at Yale fraternity parties. They are also members of a campus group called Engender, which has in the past aimed to get female and non-binary students admitted to all-male fraternities.
Unlike Harvard’s recent decision to ban single-sex organizations, the plaintiffs are not trying to ban fraternities. However, one of the plaintiffs, Walker, told the Yale Daily News that she thinks Harvard is “miles ahead of where Yale is now.”
McNeil added, “I think I speak for all of us when I say that banning fraternities isn’t counter to our objectives. We’re adopting the kind of gender-integration model because we think it’s one that’s, you know, more feasible, that’s worked similarly in other contexts in the past.”
By forcing female and non-binary students into these all-male spaces, they hope that the men will learn to “humanize” them and the culture will shift away from what they see as one of sexual harassment and violence.
The goal of fraternity integrations seems dubious to some. CBS News legal analyst Rikki Kleiman said, “If I am someone who goes into a party at the only place available for me to socialize, which is a fraternity, and I am being groped and sexually assaulted and in an environment that I think is unsafe, why do I want to join the fraternity? Why don’t I want the fraternity banned?”
Yale’s fraternities have been in the news in recent years for misogynistic comments and sexual assaults, though the university insists that all sexual misconduct will be handled by the appropriate disciplinary means. Many fraternities are not officially registered through the university and therefore cannot be sanctioned by university policy, though their members, as students, can face disciplinary action by the Yale executive committee or by local authorities.
“Fraternities believe that single-sex student organizations should be an option—a choice—for students,” the Chief Communications Officer of the North American Interfraternity Conference said. “And so should co-ed student organizations. Students should have the choice to join the groups that best fit their developmental needs.”
Aryssa is a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, an alumna of the National Journalism Center, and a contributor to the New Guard.