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Yale single-sex singing groups ditch male / female ‘paradigm,’ go co-ed

Groups adopted co-ed policy in support of ‘transgender, gender nonbinary, and nonconforming’ students.

Two formerly single-sex a cappella groups at Yale University have transitioned to co-ed status in order to accommodate the “transgender, gender nonbinary, and nonconforming members” of Yale University.

Stating that those individuals “feel unseen within the current paradigm of ‘all-male’ versus ‘all-female’ senior a cappella,” the groups Whim ‘n Rhythm and the Whiffenpoofs announced in a joint statement on Facebook that they would “accept and thoughtfully consider all auditions” moving forward.

“From now on,” the statement added, “…Whim will self-describe with the term ‘SSAA’ and the Whiffs will use ‘TTBB.’ We find the terms to be more informative of the art we create and more inclusive to members past, present, and future.

“SSAA” stands for “soprano soprano alto alto,” a vocal arrangement common to women’s groups; “TTBB,” meanwhile, signifies “tenor tenor bass bass,” more common for men.

According to an article in the school newspaper The Yale Daily News, the groups are going to work actively to close an alleged “opportunity gap” that has existed between them:

The Whiffenpoofs, well-established in the world of a cappella, take a year off from school to tour the world, while the much newer Whim ’n Rhythm tours internationally only during the summer and performs locally throughout the year. Whim ’n Rhythm also brings in significantly less revenue than do the Whiffenpoofs — during fiscal year 2013, for example, Whim ’n Rhythm’s earnings amounted to less than a quarter of the Whiffenpoofs’.

With these changes, the announcement said, the two groups hope to “more explicitly link” together as two performing bodies representing the same Yale senior class.

The change comes after the Whiffenpoofs voted nearly two years ago to remain all-male, a decision which sparked a backlash on campus:

Following the Whiffs’ 2016 vote against changing its admission policy, more than 135 students signed a petition calling for the oldest collegiate a cappella group to recruit singers on the basis of “talent alone.” The following audition cycle, in February 2017, saw the largest female and gender nonbinary turnout in the group’s 109-year history, as singers came to protest the group’s gender restriction and its privileged status relative to Whim ’n Rhythm.

Women have auditioned for the Whiffs since 1987, when a group of nine female students showed up in protest of the group’s long-standing single-gender admissions policy. Although the Whiffs have welcomed female students to audition and encouraged trans and nonbinary students to reach out with concerns, the group has remained all-male throughout its history.

Although the announcement does not guarantee a spot for women in the Whiffenpoofs, Mary Petzke ’18, one of the female students who auditioned for the Whiffenpoofs in 2017, told the News that in practice, the decision would give women who can sing the tenor part a chance to compete directly with their male counterparts for a spot in the Whiffenpoofs.

“This integration alone, however,” one aspiring Whiffenpoof told The Yale Daily News, “would not have been sufficient to provide [cis] women with the same opportunities in Yale senior a cappella as it effectively still shuts out high voices [soprano and high altos] from the Whiffs and still advantages [cis] men over low-voiced women due to the rarity of true cis-female tenor.”

Read the Daily News report here, and the joint statement here.

MORE: Sorority goes coed after threats to discriminate against all-women clubs 

IMAGE: Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

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