Female Yale Students File Suit Alleging School Turned 'Blind Eye' To Fraternity Sexual Misconduct03:47
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Patrons sit in the Atticus Bookstore Cafe, which overlooks the Yale University campus, on Chapel Street in New Haven, Conn. (Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images)
Patrons sit in the Atticus Bookstore Cafe, which overlooks the Yale University campus, on Chapel Street in New Haven, Conn. (Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images)

Three female students are suing Yale University and nine off-campus fraternities there, arguing the fraternities create a hostile environment for women and that Yale is "turning a blind eye" to sexual misconduct.

Anna McNeil, one of the plaintiffs, says she was repeatedly groped at fraternity parties during her first year at Yale.

"I've had my breasts groped at fraternity parties without my consent," McNeil says. "Often times it won't stop until you can actually physically get away from them, which is quite difficult in space that's so dark and so crowded."

While Yale has in the past condemned some activities alleged to have taken place at fraternities, the university declined an interview for this story. Joan Gilbride, an attorney for the fraternities, calls the accusations "baseless and unfounded."

"We look forward to vigorously defending this action in court, as we successfully did before the state Commission," Gilbride said in a statement.

"I've had my breasts groped at fraternity parties without my consent. Often times it won't stop until you can actually physically get away from them."

Anna McNeil, one of three female students suing Yale University and nine off-campus fraternities

Among its claims, the lawsuit argues Yale is violating Title IX, the law banning sex discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. The plaintiffs want the fraternities to allow women to join — and to gain access to fraternities' powerful alumni networks.

"George H.W. and George W. Bush and Brett Kavanaugh were all at Yale's [Delta Kappa Epsilon] chapter at some point," McNeil says. "So the pipelines from fraternities into such high-powered career tracks ... like politics and finance are really unmatched even by sororities."

Fraternities at nearby Wesleyan University recently integrated. But Todd Shelton of the North American Interfraternity Conference says single-sex student organizations like fraternities should remain an option available to students.

"Fraternities believe that single-sex student organizations should be an option — a choice — for students. And so should coed student organizations," he says. "Students should have the choice to join the groups that best fit their developmental needs."

In addition to allowing women into fraternities, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are asking Yale to create more oversight of the off-campus fraternities, including appointing "sober monitors" to watch alcohol consumption at parties and to intervene in cases of sexual harassment or assault.

"I think schools have tried to address the situation by distancing themselves from fraternities, having them go off campus," says University of Akron law professor Tracy Thomas. "This is actually asking for the opposite. Some of the relief is asking for Yale to create a Greek council and to create more oversight, bouncers at the fraternity parties, and so that may change how schools have been trying to deal with the issue."

Yale sophomore Justin Aubin has friends in fraternities and says he attends parties at frat houses.

"I believe the stories that stuff does happen and it can be a bad environment, but from personal experience I haven't seen anything," he says.

Meanwhile, Anna McNeil says it would be "amazing" if other people file similar lawsuits across the country.

"Fraternities and sororities are such a quote-unquote staple of college life that people think it's tradition, so we should respect that," she says. "But I'd say there are a lot of things we justified by saying they were traditionally OK, and now we look back at them and realize that they were not OK, and that they were disadvantaging groups of people systematically."

This segment aired on February 15, 2019.

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Jill Ryan Senior Associate Producer, Here & Now
Jill Ryan is a producer for NPR's Here & Now.

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