MIDDLETOWN, Conn. (CN) – An all-male fraternity with 148-year-old roots at Wesleyan University took the school to court over the push to let women in its frat house.
The Gamma Phi chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon, two of its members and the Kent Literary Club, the entity that owns DKE’s fraternity house, filed the complaint against Wesleyan on Friday. University president Michael Roth and vice president of student affairs Michael Whaley are also named as defendants to the superior court action.
DKE-Gamma Phi says it has been a fixture of the small, private liberal arts college since 1867; the fraternity itself was founded in 1844.
Though DKE has always limited its membership to men, Wesleyan in September 2014 gave its residential fraternities a three-year deadline to become “fully co-educational,” according to the complaint.
The school allegedly said that it would recognize residential fraternities as offering housing and social spaces for its 3,000 students “if women as well as men were full members and well represented in the body and leadership of the organization.”
DKE-Gamma Phi says it proposed some ideas on the co-education plan, and that vice president Whaley last month agreed that its plan to share the DKE house with a sorority “constituted a reasonable approach to Wesleyan’s directive.”
Wesleyan nevertheless denied program-housing status to DKE House for the 2015-2016 academic year on Feb. 6, according to the complaint.
DKE-Gamma Phi says Wesleyan never defined “fully co-educate” to it, and that DKE therefore could not commit to the school’s demands for specific details without further discussions with their sorority partner.
The school sees it differently, saying “representatives of DKE expressly disavowed any commitment to co-educate” after informed about the new requirements.
“Despite repeated requests from the University and several months in which to formulate its approach, the plan eventually submitted by DKE and subsequent communication from the organization did not include any timeline or detail for its proposed approach to partner with a sorority; nor did it adequately assure the university that female residents would have full and equal access to common areas of the house,” university spokeswoman Lauren Rubenstein said in an email.
DKE-Gamma Phi meanwhile says that denying its members the right to live in a same-sex fraternity house constitutes a breach of Wesleyan’s promise not to discriminate.
It notes that the school already offers housing for various protected-class characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.
As examples, DKE-Gamma Phi points to Wesleyan’s Turath House for “Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim students”; its Women of Color House; its Womanist House; its Malcolm X House; its La Casa de Albiuzu Campos; and its Asian/Asian American House.
Wesleyan also has a place called Open House, which is described as “a safe place for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexural, Asexual, Genderfuck, Polyamorous, Bondage/Disciple (sic), Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism communities and for people of sexually or gender dissident communities,” according to the complaint.
“Despite its willingness to allow many other diverse groups to reside by choice with members of the same sex, ethnicity, national origin, religion, culture, sexual orientation, sexual identification and the like, Wesleyan has refused to permit male fraternity brothers to reside in single-sex housing,” DKE-Gamma Phi says.
The DKE house “is substantially less expensive than other housing” that the university offers, and that the denial of program-housing status upends the plans DKE’s upperclassmen made about where they would live next year, according to the complaint.
Wesleyan’s spokeswoman meanwhile maintained DKE lost its housing deal for next year only after it “repeatedly failed to take any meaningful steps or make any reasonable commitments toward residential co-education before the date on which the housing selection process began.”
Rather than working with the administration to secure a co-educated DKE house for 2016, the fraternity and Kent Literary Club “have instead chosen to commence a lawsuit against the university,” Rubenstein said.
“The university is confident that this lawsuit has no merit,” she added.
DKE chapter president Terence Durkin told the Washington Post that “we just want to be able to live in our house next year.”
“We believe we’re being unfairly singled out by the administration,” Durkin reportedly added. “They’re just trying to promote their own form of diversity.”
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for violation of Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act and other claims. They are represented in the case by Kathleen Eldergill with Beck and Eldergill of Manchester, Conn.
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