HARTFORD, Conn. – Several fraternity chapters at Yale University have postponed recruiting events amid a push by student activists to make the social organizations open to both men and women, an umbrella group said Monday.
The fraternities put off rush events scheduled for this past weekend when students ineligible for membership indicated they planned to attend, North-American Interfraternity Conference spokeswoman Heather Matthews Kirk said.
As fraternities expressed concern about how to handle such visits, Yale Senior Associate Dean Burgwell Howard had urged local chapter leaders in a letter Thursday to open recruiting events to all students, including women.
"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. Welcome these students as you would any other potential new members," Howard wrote. He also urged fraternities to be clear about their organizations' membership criteria.
As part of broader re-examination of Greek life, a number of U.S. colleges have made changes, including Harvard University, which forbids students who join single-gender clubs from leading campus groups, and Wesleyan University, which ordered fraternities to become coed.
In his letter, Howard said Yale for now has no interest in dictating to student organization who they select for membership. He said his office supports all-female, all-male and co-ed organizations within the Greek community but the university also wants the selection process to be as clear as possible.
Kirk said it would be disingenuous to allow people not eligible to join an organization to participate in recruiting events.
Howard's letter also notes that many fraternities have changed their criteria to accommodate transgender students and others who identify as male but do not adhere to a gender binary. In the case of a student whose gender expression is in question, he encouraged fraternities to consult with their local and national boards if they want to offer a bid.
Howard's office directed a request for comment to a Yale spokesman, who said he had nothing to add to the statements in the letter.
A Yale student group, Engender, has been working on the Ivy League campus to end what it describes as sex discrimination that limits access to social and economic opportunities provided by fraternities. It said local fraternities told Engender that their national chapters called for rush events to be canceled until they determined how to respond to Engender's campaign.
"We view Dean Howard's statement as a helpful demonstration that the only real barrier to gender integration is the enforcement of sex-discriminatory membership policies from above by national fraternities and the NIC — not the free choices of students or administrators," the student group said in a statement.
The group has worked in the past to coordinate the attendance of female students at one fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, although it had said it would accept only men.
This story has been corrected to show the name of the Yale senior associate dean is Burgwell Howard, not Howard Burgwell.