March 25, 2012
In a March 1st email to the Yale College student body, Deans Mary Miller and W. Marshal Gentry announced that freshmen would no longer be able to rush fraternities and sororities in their first semester. Citing the need for freshmen to “orient themselves more thoroughly to the richness of the broad Yale experience,” Miller and Gentry stated that freshmen would have to wait until spring semester to rush. The change will not affect Yale’s three sororities, which have rush over a weekend in January. The rush schedules of many of Yale’s fraternities, however, will have to be adjusted.
At first glance, this policy seems to have a simple aim: to encourage impressionable freshmen to look beyond Greek life when establishing friendships and choosing activities in their first semester. While rush varies from fraternity to fraternity, there is often a troublesome power dynamic at play: freshmen are eager to impress older members of the fraternity, who know that they can leverage this status to manipulate rushees. (Case in point: the infamous 2010 incident in which Delta Kappa Epsilon rushees paraded around Old Campus chanting “No means yes, yes means anal”). While fraternities will insist that they do not haze, it is almost impossible to discern if this is true from group to group; after all, a large part of a fraternity’s appeal lies in its construction of an atmosphere of exclusivity and secrecy.
But an even more troubling truth soon emerges: Greek organizations are remarkably successful in evading the university’s authority. Few have registered as official student organizations; at the time of writing, only Alpha Epsilon Pi (a Jewish fraternity), Delta Sigma Theta Society, (a multicultural sorority), the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, the Panhellenic Association (an umbrella governance group for Yale’s three major sororities), and Sigma Psi Zeta (a sorority for Asian women) were registered. Notably absent from this list are Yale’s other two sororities, Pi Beta Phi and Kappa Alpha Theta, as well as all of the remaining fraternities.
Generally, the benefits of registering are negligible for Greek organizations. Income from dues and alumni contributions far outweighs monies that would be received from the Undergraduate Organizations Funding Committee, and comes with far fewer restrictions. Unregistered groups cannot participate in extracurricular bazaars, but this is not terribly problematic for Greek organizations, which hold their recruitment processes differently. They can also avoid the leadership training sessions mandatory for all registered student groups; such sessions appear to be a key part of Yale’s approach to controlling hazing and sexual assault and harassment. But, most importantly, they are much more able to avoid university oversight.
This was painfully clear in the wake of the 2010 DKE incident. Yale’s Executive Committee suspended DKE in May 2011 from “conducting any fraternity activities on campus (including recruiting)” for five years. The DKE chapter, as well as several of its members, were found to have violated the Undergraduate Regulations rules against “threatening and intimidating others.” Penalties were levied on and individual and group basis. (The details of individual penalties were not disclosed.) While the ExComm’s penalties for the group as a whole—barring the group from holding fraternity activities, including recruitment, on campus, restricting its use of the Yale name, and limiting its ability to communicate with the student body—were levied despite DKE’s not being an official student group, it is clear that they have not been wholly effective. It is obvious to any Yale student that the fraternity still recruited in the fall and is still holding parties each weekend.
While DKE’s national organization briefly suspended the Yale chapter’s pledging process immediately following the incident, the ban was lifted in early November 2010. DKE officials dismissed the ExComm’s request for a five-year suspension of the chapter, calling it “excessive.” Since DKE as a national organization apparently did not find the actions of its Yale members sufficiently reprehensible, only Yale’s “consequences” stood. Yet it is unclear what exactly changed, since most of DKE’s activities already took place off-campus and outside of the traditional extracurricular experience.
This is simply another example of the university’s failure to take actual action against those Greek organizations which contribute negatively to campus culture. In December, Mary Miller herself defended the group’s “right to assemble,” albeit off-campus. Since rush has traditionally taken place off of campus proper, it remains to be seen how the administration will exercise its authority to determine the timing of the rush process for groups it does not officially recognize.
Nonetheless, protest from fraternities has been significant. Following the March 1st announcement, Benjamin Singleton, a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, argued that his fraternity was first and foremost a brotherhood, rather than just a group that existed for a social purpose. Fraternities, he argued, were “singled out,” “exclude(d) from the decision-making process,” and “unfair(ly) target(ed).” Yet there is a difference between being “singled out” and “unfairly targeted.” If a group’s activities are clearly detrimental to other members of the community, that group deserves to have its behavior addressed and, if necessary, suffer the consequences. More recently, Ben Vangelder, president of Sigma Chi, noted that the spring rush policy appeared to have been the only policy to result from a 2011 Committee on Hazing and Initiation; again, he claimed that Greek organizations had been specifically targeted while the practices of other organizations were not addressed.
True, as Vangelder argues, non-Greek organizations may have similarly problematic initiation processes. But the focus on fraternities is not entirely unwarranted. It is no secret that Yale’s fraternities are often responsible for a disproportionate number of deeply disturbing acts of misogyny. The concept of a fraternity—a group of men enjoying brotherhood—is not inherently problematic, but, in practice, these groups can be visible upholders of misogyny. Alcohol is a major feature of their social gatherings; women are objectified; hazing is a reality. While one such public act—the 2008 incident in which Zeta Psi rushees posed outside of the Women’s Center with a sign reading “We Love Yale Sluts”—occurred in January of that year, the more infamous one—the 2010 DKE chants—happened in October. Yet the former incident is proof that rushees do not instantly become impervious to peer pressure upon return from winter break.
It remains to be seen if simply pushing recruitment activities later in the year will prevent similar events in the future. It is unclear if this a symbolic exertion of the university’s power over organizations that have often evaded their oversight, or a measure genuinely intended to make rush a less problematic process for freshmen eager to impress older fraternity members.
The most telling portion of Vangelder’s article comes when he suggests that the “restrictive” policy “could risk driving some fraternities to conduct their recruitment underground, directly counteracting the original goals of the Committee to ensure the safety and positivity of initiation practices.” DKE recruitment has gone somewhat underground, and other fraternities will likely follow if they are determined to hold rush in the fall, perhaps to ensure adequate funding or to simply replace the number of brothers who graduated the preceding spring. This policy could, potentially, be counterproductive, depending on how strictly it is enforced and how resistant fraternities are to a spring rush process.
But given its tepid action in the past, it is still unclear how Yale will be able to exercise control over the off-campus activities of organizations it does not officially recognize, except for perhaps punishing the individual fraternity members involved. A truly mixed message is being sent by the administration in its efforts to both protect the “rights” of the fraternity and impose consequences for its egregious wrongs. The administration has a long history of inaction in significantly restricting the activities of an extremely troubling aspect of campus culture. This policy could either be an embarrassing failure if the administration is unable to enforce it, or the cause of an even more problematic rush process. But, like many policies before it, it may never be truly enacted, remaining just another example of Yale’s lack of commitment to truly ensuring a safer campus culture.
Julia Calagiovanni is a freshman in Yale College. She is an associate editor for Broad Recognition.