Saturday, March 2, 2019

Women File Class Action Lawsuit Against Yale and Fraternities

I think that many reactionary rants against today's litigious society are often veiled attempts to defend someone doing wrong. If a corporation is price gouging for insulin or deliberately selling bad meat to an unsuspecting public then the courts and lawyers absolutely have a role to play. 

But there are some complaints and conflicts where I believe that the courts and lawyers and state should stay out. If a man attends a "gentlemen's club" of his own free will it is ridiculous for the man to turn around and sue the club for sexual harassment because young women lacking clothes displayed themselves to him. That's the point of such clubs. It would also be a reach for the man to sue the city where the club was located for allowing this supposed sexual harassment. And it would seem unbelievable for the man to claim that the club was the only social venue in town and thus he had no choice but to go to the club.

And yet something very similar is happening at Yale.

Three Yale students who claim they were groped at fraternity parties have filed a class-action lawsuit against the university, arguing the school has fostered an environment where alcohol-fueled gatherings at off-campus fraternity houses dictate the undergraduate social scene.

While the New Haven, Conn., university presents itself as a campus where fraternities are not a major presence, the lawsuit states that few options besides fraternity parties exist for women who want to socialize and meet other students. Joan Gilbride, a lawyer for the fraternities named in the lawsuit, said the accusations are “baseless and unfounded,” and that the fraternities and their national organizations would vigorously defend themselves against the claims.

A Yale spokesman, Thomas Conroy, said he could not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. But he shared a message to Yale students last month from the dean of Yale College, Marvin Chun, after a yearlong review of campus culture, including fraternity culture. It said in part, “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.” 

The plaintiffs — a sophomore and two juniors — have demanded in the lawsuit that Yale and its fraternities rein in the parties. They have also asked for a court order that would force the fraternities to admit women and allow them to share in the benefits of membership, like housing and powerful alumni networks that can lead to jobs, internships and social capital.

“Simply put, fraternities elevate men to social gatekeepers and relegate women and non-binary students to sexual objects,” the lawsuit said. “Moreover, Yale’s fraternities have alumni and professional connections to the business world, including banking and consulting firms, which often result in coveted job offers and economic opportunities.” All three women in the Yale case said they were groped at fraternity parties during their first semesters. In the lawsuit, Ms. Walker, who is African-American, said she was passed over by fraternity brothers controlling admission to a party, while white women behind her were admitted. The women belong to a student group called Engender that has used civil rights-type tactics to try to force fraternities to accept women. For the past three years, women and “non-binary” students from Engender have tried to join fraternities.

I didn't join a fraternity in college. Not my thing. So I have no particular love or hate for frats. But it's not the university's job to ensure that every person has exactly the kind of social life that they want. That is an individual responsibility. 

Additionally there is still freedom of association. Inevitably this means that some people's feelings will get hurt. Not everyone is going to like everyone else. People don't find everyone equally attractive. We all will find ourselves on the dirty end of this stick at some point in life. Guaranteed.

But people shouldn't use the state to compel private non-economic groups to give up their right to associate as they see fit. Although doing so might be morally wrong if I want to have a party at my house and only invite the subset of people whom I find appropriate for whatever arbitrary capricious reason that's my prerogative. Why? Because it's my freaking house! 

There are also times and places where people just want to hang out with their own gender. That's okay. I don't see the problem with that. If someone was groped against their will at a party then I think that the action should be taken against the alleged groper or at most the local  fraternity chapter.

I don't think, without more evidence, that the national fraternity is responsible. And I don't think that Yale should be held responsible for off-campus activities by organizations that are not part of the university. That's silly. It's almost as silly as someone suing to be admitted to a party so that she too can be groped.
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