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The irony of the war on Yale fraternities

Do the women bringing the lawsuit realize that, by virtue of being Ivy League students, they too are privileged?

February 19, 2019

5:17 PM

19 February 2019

5:17 PM

Three female students are suing Yale and several campus fraternities for ‘alleged gender discrimination and for fostering a sexually hostile environment,’ reports the Yale Daily News.

The lawsuit fits into a broader, national conversation happening on college campuses around the country about the role of fraternities, sororities, and any on-campus organization that discriminates on the basis of sex. Increasingly, campus activists — and, in the case of Harvard, sometimes college administrators — are calling for single-sex institutions to be forcibly integrated.

I’m biased on this issue, but so are the plaintiffs, whether they recognize it or not. My own educational experiences have been shaped — and deeply enhanced — by single-sex institutions. My time at Barnard, a women’s college, was deeply enriching. It is an experience I feel fortunate to have had, and fervently hope that future generations of women will have the option of having as well.  This is not to say that single-sex education, or single-sex social organizations, are optimal for everybody; they are not. It is, however, to acknowledge that a single-sex environment is at times desired by, and beneficial to, some individuals. Students at Yale and other universities should have the option to join either co-ed or single-sex social organizations on campus. The left has historically appreciated more freedom, more flexibility, more choice. Liberals have always advocated the idea that different things work for different people, that minority rights and desires should be protected, that a dominant class should not be able to impose its values or principles on everyone else. And yet those who have called for the destruction of single sex clubs, those who have sought to delegitimize them, or regulate them out of existence, are guilty of precisely that crime.

The Yale lawsuit is fascinating in its predictability. The three Yale women — and their legal representatives — have grounded their arguments in familiar tropes and accusations. The lawsuit alleges:

‘When Ms McNeil, Ms Singer, and Ms Walker [the plaintiffs] arrived on campus as first-year students, they encountered a thriving all-male fraternity scene. Yale had a drastic shortage of University-run social spaces, and the fraternities (“Defendant Fraternities” or “the Fraternities”) were the de facto social environment for many students. Male students routinely controlled the admission, alcohol, lighting, and music for many Yale social gatherings. This dynamic created dangerous environments in which sexual misconduct thrived.’

This line of reasoning will be familiar to anyone who has followed the war that Harvard has been raging against final clubs. Regarding the Yale case specifically: the plaintiffs’ allegations of sexual misconduct may be true, but it’s curious that their solution to this alleged misconduct is predicated on more, not less, exposure to, and interaction with, these very same environments. Interestingly, the powers that be at Yale seem to have a different — and much more sensible — solution. The New York Times reported that Marvin Chun, the Dean of Yale College said regarding fraternity culture: ‘I condemn the culture described in these accounts; it runs counter to our community’s values of making everyone feel welcome, respected and safe. I also offer some plain advice about events like these: don’t go to them.’ (emphasis is my own).

The plaintiffs also charge that fraternities give male Yale students an unfair advantage in finding mentors and networking for post-college jobs. They specifically argue that ‘the presence of Yale’s sororities does not alleviate this disparity’ in part because ‘Yale fraternities and sororities are not, in fact, equal in economic associational, and social resources…the sororities are over one hundred years younger than Yale’s oldest fraternities, offer fewer total housing units, and upon information and belief, have a smaller and less influential Yale alumni network.’

I’m sure that this charge is true, but I’m equally sure that the solution is for concerned women — on both the student and alumni level — to ensure that sororities or other co-ed institutions on campus successfully provide excellent networking platforms, among other things. If Yale women would like to enjoy the kind of an incredible network that Yale’s fraternity members have created over the course of well over a hundred years, the solution may just be to build it themselves.

As for the larger notion being discussed — that on a fundamental level, fraternity members at Yale are given an unfair advantage socially, economically, and with regards to networking — do the women bringing the suit realize that, by virtue of being Yale students, they too are privileged with myriad advantages not enjoyed by the vast majority of the rest of the nation? The plaintiffs have already made it into one of the most exclusive institutions in the world. They are free to engage in co-ed activities and organizations on campus. If they are so disturbed by the presence of exclusionary institutions on campus that they have decided seeking legal recourse is their best option, these women would be wise to consider the implications of their identities as Yale students. If they see exclusion as an inherent evil to be corrected, their very presence on campus is hypocritical.

Daniella Greenbaum Davis is a Spectator columnist and a Senior Contributor to the Federalist.

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