Female students sue Yale, fraternities over frat culture

PHOTO: Harkness Tower sits on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., Sept. 9, 2016.PlayBeth J. Harpaz/AP, FILE
WATCH Female students sue Yale, fraternities over frat culture

Three Yale University students are suing the school and the nine male fraternities on campus for a campus culture that they say allows for rampant sexual harassment.

The three female students, Anna McNeil, Ellie Singer, and Ry Walker claim in the federal lawsuit that they were all groped at fraternity parties during their first semester on campus and that have had to fight against the sexist atmosphere ever since. They also claim to know other female and non-binary students who had experienced sexual harassment and assault "committed during fraternity parties, after fraternity parties, and by fraternity members."

The lawsuit, which names the university, the local fraternity chapters and the fraternities’ national organizations, as defendants, details what they claim to be a "drastic shortage of University-run social spaces," making fraternity parties the "de facto social environment for many students."

"Fraternity brothers and other male attendees regularly deny female students admission to parties based on their appearance, verbally harass them, grind up against them, grab them, and grope them," the lawsuit states.

"Brothers are also reportedly more likely to use alcohol to obtain sex, more likely to be involved in gang rapes, more likely to endorse traditional gender roles, and more likely to espouse rape myths," the suit states.

The suit is seeking unspecified damages, but the students’ attorney, David Treacy, told ABC News that “our primary goal here is changing these institutions.” He said that they are seeking “institutional reform both to Yale and to the fraternities.”

PHOTO: Anna McNeil, Ellie Singer, and Ry Walker are the named plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against Yale University and the schools fraternities over frat culture on campus. Ian Christmann Photography
Anna McNeil, Ellie Singer, and Ry Walker are the named plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against Yale University and the school's fraternities over frat culture on campus.

Thomas Conroy, a spokesperson for Yale University, told ABC News that he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but noted that a Yale dean shared the results from a review of campus culture and that the school and its students were working to improve the culture.

Joan Gilbride, the attorney representing the nine fraternities, released a statement to ABC News calling the accusations in the lawsuit “baseless and unfounded.”

“This theory of liability was already resoundingly rejected just last month by the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in a written decision. We look forward to vigorously defending this action in court, as we successfully did before the state Commission,” Gilbride said in her statement.

McNeil, a 20-year-old Yale junior, said that overall she has “heard much more positivity from people on campus” about the lawsuit than she expected.

The lawsuit also details how the three women, along with some of their peers who are in a gender advocacy campus group called Engender, have tried joining on-campus fraternities multiple times only to be rebuffed or dismissed. Because that has been covered by the student newspaper through the years, she said that people on campus do not appear to be overly surprised by the suit itself.

McNeil said that in addition to trying to ‘rush’ the school’s fraternities, she and other members of Engender have gone through the ‘rush’ process at the school’s sororities. She said they did this “for the experience of comparing the two” rather than as an effort to join a sorority.

Both in the lawsuit and in her conversation with ABC News, McNeil stressed that the differences between fraternities and sororities is significant. She said that the fraternities play the role of party host on campus, yet women play no role in the way that those parties are run.

“Frats are entertaining a co-ed public, but the membership of those frats — the people who make executive decisions about how parties are run… are all male,” McNeil said.

The differences between the two single-sex institutions go beyond students’ time on campus, McNeil said. Both fraternities and sororities claim to have extensive professional networking opportunities, which help members find jobs later on, but she said that it's the fraternities that have a further reach.