9 Feb 2017

Yale Students: Prestigious ‘Whiffenpoofs’ Singing Group Must Admit Women

By Ian Miles Cheong: The Yale Whiffenpoofs are the most prestigious all-male college a cappella group in the United States. Renowned for their performances, the troupe began in 1909 and each year, 14 Yale seniors are selected to join.

This year, a few women elected to audition for positions in the Whiffenpoofs. The group’s policy allows for women to audition, but remains strictly single-gender and does not admit women into its ranks. Besides the all-male group, Yale is also home to Whim n’ Rhythm, an all-female a cappella group.
But following fevered discussions of inclusiveness and diversity around Yale’s campus communities in recent months, students created a petition urging the “Whiffs” to admit women into its next class of singers. The petition has received more than 135 signatures from senior a cappella alumnae, students auditioning for the positions, and concerned students.
“Privileged institutions like the Whiffenpoofs can afford to open their arms to singers on the basis of talent alone. They have enough power—historically and financially—to support a more inclusive environment,” reads the petition.
“Art-making is always a political act, regardless of intentions. And while a traditional route is often sustainable, for the group to evolve you must challenge assumptions about what it means to be a Whiffenpoof,” it continues, adding that students shouldn’t be denied their chance to perform as Whiffs due to their gender, and that signing the petition will give students a chance to “dismantle these archaic structures of power based on bodies alone.”
The Yale Daily News reports that the petition grew from a Facebook group created to urge female students to audition for positions in the troupe, which voted last November to remain strictly for men. The Whiffs have held regular votes over whether to let women into their ranks since the ‘70s, even as they performed on stage with women. They have admitted honorary female members, but they have never done so through the rigorous audition process.
Students who voted against it say that changing the group’s artistic direction would be going against the wishes and vision of their predecessors from older classes.
The publication states that most of its members voted against the measure to preserve the group’s traditional, and artistic image as an all-male group—and that admitting women into the Whiffs would also damage the prestige of Whim ‘n Rhythm. Whim singers were concerned that a co-ed policy would siphon membership from them towards the more prestigious Whiffs.
Unlike Whim, the Whiffs have the financial resources to allow singers to go on a huge international tour, which adds to their attraction.
“Integrating the Whiffenpoofs discredits the work that women put in everyday to make Whim the best group it can be and dismisses the idea that there is value in single-sex organizations,” said Whim member Zoya Alfridi, who opposes the petition.
If the Whiffenpoofs give in to the petition, they may end up killing their female counterpart. It’s no surprise that only a single member of Whim signed the petition.
Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.


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