At Yale University, the historic a cappella group, the Duke’s Men of Yale, will begin allowing all singers to audition, regardless of their “gender identity.”
The 65-year-old group was founded roughly two decades before the New Haven, Connecticut, university started accepting female students in 1969. In hopes of being more inclusive, the Duke’s Men will “remove any gender restriction” from its audition process this fall.
“Being able to sing our repertoire as it currently exists or participate in our community is not contingent on a person’s biological sex or gender identity,” the group announced last week on Facebook. “It is a disservice to our group and our community at large to audition along gendered lines.”
According to the Yale Daily News, the Duke’s Men’s decision comes amid “growing pressure” on the college’s all-male singing groups to admit women “and other students who do not identify as male.” The group voted unanimously to do away with its all-male restriction.
“There were some people who thought this was a bad idea, and a lot of people who thought this was a good idea, and a lot of people who were just worried and wanted to make sure we were prepared,” said Jerome Walker, who served as the musical director of the Duke’s Men last year.
Yale’s historic all-male Whiffenpoofs a cappella group has — so far — steered clear of pressure to change. But this latest shift by the Duke’s Men, which is seen as a feeder group for the Whiffs, is certain to place renewed pressure on the elite singing group.
A student petition urging the Whiffs to admit women received more than 100 signatures when it was circulated in February, the Daily News reported.
“The Whiffs’ explanation for not wanting to integrate is that they have a very long tradition and it would be hard to change their arrangements,” Sarah DiMagno, a member of the Singing Group Council, said. “The Duke’s Men has sort of refuted that by saying we can have our sounds and still admit women.”
And in its Facebook statement, the Duke’s Men encourage the a cappella community on campus “to examine the ways we include and exclude trans and non-binary people in our shared spaces.”
The Duke’s men promised to maintain its current musical configuration — two tenors, one baritone, and one bass — through the open auditions in September. Other aspects of the group’s identity, though, are likely to change in order to reflect its gender-inclusive future.
“Our name has the potential to undermine our message of inclusivity, but it also represents a cherished group history,” the group’s statement read. “With the help of our alumni, we will continue to discuss which elements should stay as we become an all-gender group, and which should change.”
Some, however, are hoping groups like the Whiffs maintain their historic role as all-male a cappella groups.
When the petition was first being circulated earlier this year, Zoya Afridi, co-business manager of the all-female Whim ’n Rhythm, came to the Whiffs’ defense. Allowing women into the Whiffenpoofs, she said, would undermine “century-old tradition of music and camaraderie.”
And Whim ’n Rhythm member Isabelle Savoie added: “Immediate integration [of women into the Whiffs] would without a doubt negatively affect Whim ‘n Rhythm.”
Following the Duke’s Men decision, there are now only six all-male a cappella groups at Yale, the same as the number of mixed groups at the university.