Swarthmore Suspends Frat Activity Amid Backlash Over Leaked Letters
Students want the college’s two fraternities banned for good after publications began circulating highly disturbing documents from former members of Phi Psi.
Swarthmore College has suspended all fraternity activity on its campus amid outrage over leaked documents written by former members of the college’s Phi Psi fraternity — and student activists are demanding once again that the school ban frats from campus entirely.
The controversy erupted earlier this month, when two campus publications — Voices and the Phoenix — released redacted internal letters allegedly written between 2012 and 2016 by then–Phi Psi fraternity members. The publications say the documents were anonymously leaked.
The letters chronicle the frat’s unofficial meeting “minutes,” written by members describing parties, sexual assault, drug and alcohol use, hazing, and more. They’re rife with degrading remarks about women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, as well as peppered with intimate photos of frat members and students and links to pornographic material. Philadelphia magazine has not independently verified the statements and incidents depicted in the material.
Following the release of the documents, members of the Swarthmore community — including Organizing for Survivors, a student organization that supports survivors of sexual violence and raises awareness of Title IX-related issues on campus — are calling on the college to end the leases of its two fraternities: Phi Psi (not related to the national Phi Kappa Psi) and Delta Upsilon. Students have been updating a Tumblr blog where women have shared allegations of sexual misconduct at the fraternity. And two former Swarthmore fraternity members, as well as a Swarthmore alum and faculty member, have written op-eds in the Phoenix that call on the college to shut down the fraternities.
On Saturday, members of Organizing for Survivors and the newly formed Swarthmore Coalition Against Fraternity Violence (as well as other students) began staging a sit-in both inside and outside the Phi Psi house. As of Monday afternoon, protesters remained at the fraternity — some having slept outside the building in tents. They’re calling on Swarthmore to cease all fraternity activity for good.
Leaked documents from Phi Psi at Swarthmore, which date back to 2016, casually reference sexual assault. They refer to part of the house as the “rape attic”. These students are occupying the frat house, under risk of arrest, to make sure they don’t get away w this anymore. pic.twitter.com/59pEGypQVO
— Sophie Hurwitz (@sophiehurwitz) April 28, 2019
Also on Saturday, shortly after the sit-in began, Swarthmore College president Valerie Smith released a message to the community announcing her decision to suspend fraternity activities. The choice, she said, was made after the university “consulted with an external investigator.” An investigation is still ongoing at this time, and fraternity activities are suspending pending the outcome, Smith wrote. The university did not immediately respond to inquiries regarding the investigation, nor did it elaborate on what the probe entails.
Tension between Swarthmore’s fraternities and students who associate fraternity culture with “rape culture” have simmered for years. The movement to abolish fraternities is nothing new at the progressive liberal arts school, as Philadelphia magazine wrote in 2014 (after 91 complaints of sexual misconduct were filed at the college in a single year).
Many students, including those from nearby Bryn Mawr, along with award-winning feminist writer Carmen Maria Machado have decried the recently leaked documents.
I stand with the students at Swarthmore College as they occupy a fraternity house and demand the reallocation of the space. Police and campus safety are monitoring them. @Swarthmore, do the right thing. https://t.co/g4WGyy9DzX
— Carmen Maria Machado (@carmenmmachado) April 28, 2019
Members of Phi Psi could not be reached for comment on Monday. In a statement published on the fraternity’s Facebook page on April 17th, members said they “wholeheartedly condemn the language” of the leaked documents, as “they are not representative of who we are today.”
“All our current brothers were in high school and middle school at the time of these unofficial minutes, and none of us would have joined the organization had this been the standard when we arrived at Swarthmore,” the post continued. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to our extensive Title IX programming, positive coordination with Public Safety, and our desire to always be a space where students can enjoy themselves outside of the academic climate.”
In a statement given to Philadelphia magazine, Swarthmore’s Delta Upsilon chapter said that the leaked documents “call into question whether there is any place for fraternities at Swarthmore at all,” acknowledging that “Greek life at Swarthmore is relatively small.” (In a follow-up, though, members clarified that they do think they “have a place on Swarthmore’s campus.”)
The frat said it read the documents “with total revulsion” and claimed they “do not reflect the values of Delta Upsilon.”
“Delta Upsilon is a group of dedicated and driven students who, just like everyone else on this campus, strive to live by the values and principles of our college,” the frat said in its statement. “We continue to work closely with Swarthmore faculty, students, and our international headquarters to create a space free from bigotry, harassment, or violence.”