In a win for freedom of association today, Trinity College president Joanne Berger-Sweeney announced she has asked the college’s board to endorse eliminating the “coed mandate” that would have forced fraternities and sororities at the Connecticut college to admit students of both genders.
FIRE wrote to Trinity in 2013 after its board of trustees approved a proposal calling for, among other requirements, gender parity requirements to be applied to student social clubs. The move threatened to end sororities and fraternities which by their charters are required to maintain single-gender admissions, and seriously infringed on students’ right to freedom of association, putting students at risk of expulsion for membership in unauthorized groups. (While Trinity is a private institution, it expressly promises its students this right in policy materials.)
Berger-Sweeney, who became president of the college in July 2014, agreed, saying her extensive research and discussion with community members indicated the mandate would be a “step backward” for gender equality:
I have concluded that the coed mandate is unlikely to achieve its intended goal of gender equity. Furthermore, I do not believe that requiring coed membership is the best way to address gender discrimination or to promote inclusiveness. In fact, community-wide dialogue concerning this issue has been divisive and counterproductive.
Peter Bonilla, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said of Berger-Sweeney’s announcement, “It’s encouraging that Trinity’s president has looked at the college’s social code with fresh eyes and seen just how problematic it was for student rights. Hopefully this signals a renewed commitment to defending its students’ right to freedom of association.”
FIRE will have more to come on this story as it develops.