Sanford Heisler Sharp Represents Yale Students Seeking to End All-Male Admission Practices At Fraternities and End Hostile Environment

Posted September 27th, 2018.

Sanford Heisler Sharp represents Anna McNeil, Eliana Singer, and Ry Walker, undergraduate students at Yale University, who are seeking to end the all-male admission practices of Yale’s fraternities and end the hostile environment associated with fraternity culture at Yale.

Ms. McNeil, Ms. Singer, and Ms. Walker are members of Engender, an undergraduate student group that promotes equity and inclusion at Yale. For the past two years, Engender has been actively working to earn the right for women and non-binary students to join Yale’s fraternities.

In 2017 and 2018, Engender members requested to participate in the fraternities’ recruitment (“rush”) process. In both years, only one fraternity permitted the students to rush, and the one that did, denied their requests for admission.

The students have also experienced, witnessed, and know of numerous instance of sexual harassment and assault at Yale’s fraternities.

Ms. McNeil, Ms. Walker and Ms. Singer have been involved in extensive efforts to petition Yale’s administration to end the fraternities’ discriminatory admissions practices and the hostile environment. But Yale has refused to address the students’ concerns.

Accordingly, on July 12, 2018, Ms. McNeil, Ms. Singer, and Ms. Walker filed complaints of discrimination with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights an Opportunities (CHRO) against Yale and nine fraternities. The matter is currently pending before the CHRO.

On September 27, 2018, Ms. McNeil, Ms. Singer, and Ms. Walker jointly published an op-ed in the Yale Daily News, describing their efforts to integrate the fraternities and end the hostile environment.

ANNA MCNEIL, ELLIE SINGER & RY WALKEROn July 12, 2018, the three of us filed complaints with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), alleging sex discrimination against Yale University and several fraternities at Yale. The problems that compelled us are numerous and include the sexually hostile environments at fraternities and lack of accountability both brothers and partygoers face for sexual harassment and assault; the stranglehold fraternities have on the party scene; and the systematic exclusion of women and nonbinary people from the ranks of fraternities, which subsequently denies them the vast social benefits and economic opportunities brothers may accrue solely by virtue of their maleness.

We have experienced this unlawful discrimination firsthand. We are members of Engender, a registered student organization that advocates for equity and inclusion at Yale. During the last two academic years, Engender members sought admission to nine of Yale’s all-male fraternities. All but one fraternity refused to let our members rush, and the one that did ultimately denied our members’ requests for admission. We have also experienced, witnessed and know of numerous instances of sexual harassment and assault at Yale’s all-male fraternities.

Prospective and new students wouldn’t know any of this if they took Yale at its word. Publicly, Yale promises its students an environment free from discrimination –– especially on the basis of sex. The University declares its commitment to equal opportunity and mutual respect. Yale’s regulations state that all student organizations — whether registered or unregistered — must follow the university’s anti-discrimination policy.

Yet, under scrutiny, these promises don’t hold water. Last year, members of Engender met with various Yale administrators to discuss both Yale’s relationship to its Greek life and what path we might take within the College to address the discrimination and sexual misconduct that we experienced at the hands of fraternities. Deans Chun, Howard, Lizarribar and Peeples made light of the fact that fraternities denied Engender members’ requests for admission. Even though they agreed that we had experienced discrimination, they informed us that Yale would not support our efforts to challenge the fraternity system.

To be clear: Though Yale has the power to do something, they choose to do nothing. Other universities have made significant strides toward reigning in single-gender organizations. Harvard, for example, banned exclusionary single-sex organizations and barred members from campus leadership positions unless their organizations committed to integration. Many organizations took the chance to integrate after Harvard’s decision. By contrast, Yale administrators have voiced fears of lawsuits if they were to adopt Harvard’s approach, a risk we believe Yale should be willing to take to end overt gender discrimination against its female and nonbinary students.

Many attempt to explain away fraternities’ bad reputations by placing the blame on a few individuals. At Yale in particular, we have heard students say that only some fraternities are “bad,” not all. It’s time we recognize that Greek organizations are structurally flawed, that any social organization that, in 2018, would deny an applicant on the basis of gender is gravely outdated and is sexist at its core. It is true that some Yale fraternities have had horrendous sexual assault and harassment scandals while others have not. But all of Yale’s fraternities entertain a coed population at parties conceived of and run by all-male leadership. At its best, this phenomenon promotes male supremacy and sexual harassment, stigmatizes and alienates queer students and excludes nonbinary identity altogether. At its worst, this phenomenon has not only proven seriously dangerous for current Yale students but inculcates norms of sexual violence in men who will go on to fill positions in the most lucrative industries and influential offices.

Yale’s inaction so far cannot be attributed to anything other than deliberate indifference. Even as our university celebrates 50 years of undergraduate coeducation, it turns a blind eye to the indignities women and other marginalized students face with staggering frequency. We filed our complaints with the CHRO to challenge the assumed legitimacy of a system that disenfranchises us personally, subjects us to pervasive sexual harassment and assault and undermines the promise of equal opportunity on this campus. Yale College opened its gates to women nearly 50 years ago. It’s time to protect the students inside.

The students are represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp's Chairman David Sanford and attorneys David Tracey and Albert Powell.