Yale admin asks frats to ignore 'gender identity' during rush

A high-ranking administrator at Yale University recently emailed all fraternities on campus to encourage them to allow women to join.

Sent by Associate Vice President of Student Life Burgwell Howard, the email came on the heels of a longstanding activist effort by feminist students to make fraternities let women join in the name of “equity and inclusion,” exemplified by Harvard University’s recent decision to forbid membership in “unrecognized single-gender social organizations.”

[RELATED: Harvard formally adopts sanctions on single-gender clubs]

“A number of you have mentioned concerns you have or have had regarding Yale students who may be interested in participating in your rush/recruitment process, but their gender identity or expression may not allow them to be offered membership in your national organizations,” Howard wrote in an email sent only to fraternity presidents last Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The Yale Daily News.

“My basic advice is that it does no harm to have your rush events open to all eligible members of the Yale community—regardless of gender,” she advised.

The push to make Yale fraternities gender-neutral is being spearheaded by Engender, a group led by Yale students under the direction of a Senior Advisory Board that includes both Anita Hill, the woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings, and Lisa Wade, the Occidental College professor who recently asserted that “masculinity itself has become the problem.”

Founded in the fall of 2016, the group aims to integrate fraternities on campus given their “disproportionate control over campus social life.”

Thus far, neither Howard nor Engender have campaigned to integrate sororities, only fraternities, but Engender’s leaders argue that gender integration of fraternities is crucial because “gender segregation dehumanizes and objectifies women.”

[RELATED: Harvard sorority goes 'gender-neutral' to avoid sanctions]

They also argue that traditional fraternities promote bias against women.

“Gender segregation creates in-group biases and out-group stereotypes, which advantage men and disadvantage women and non-binary students in the labor market,” the group argues, adding that fraternities organize “social activities around a heteronormative gender binary that alienates queer students.”

In an interview with Campus Reform, Communications Director Natalie Schultz-Henry said Engender was inspired to make fraternities gender-neutral in order to combat the alleged “epidemic of sexual assault, hazing, and unequal professional opportunities created by the exclusion of women from fraternities.”

When asked if sororities should also go gender-neutral, given their concerns over gender-segregation, Schultz-Henry reiterated that reforming fraternities is their top priority, but declined to comment on whether this might be seen as a double standard.

[RELATED: Prof exempts ‘black fraternities’ from call to abolish frats]

Yale isn’t the only school where fraternities are coming under siege. As Campus Reform has reported, to fight sexual assault and the concentration of white male power in fraternities at Harvard, the Harvard recently announced that any member of a single-gender organization will be subject to sanctions.

While Harvard didn’t ban fraternities or sororities outright, any student who joins one will not be permitted to hold leadership positions in student government organizations or on athletic teams, and will be ineligible for letters of recommendation from the Dean's Office.

In a statement to Campus Reform, Burgwell Howard clarified that there is no institutional position on whether fraternities should accept women, despite the letter he sent to fraternities.

“Neither I nor Yale University have a position on who should or should not attend a fraternity’s [or sorority’s] rush/recruitment event,” he said. “We would simply expect that they be a student in good standing with the College and eligible to participate in the process.”

Howard declined to answer a follow-up inquiry from Campus Reform on whether he also emailed sororities to encourage them to open their doors to men.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airakisnen