Amid charges of discrimination and recurring hazing allegations, schools such as the University of Alabama, where almost 40 percent of students belong to Greek organizations, have cancelled pledging activities this fall. At Princeton University, in an effort to curb excessive and underage drinking, freshmen have been banned from pledging fraternities or sororities, and from attending Greek social events.Opponents of Greek organizations at Swarthmore recently voiced their opinions on fraternities in the comments section of an online petition, circulated through Facebook, which called for a school-wide referendum on the establishment of a sorority on campus. Students cited exclusivity and dangerous pledging activities as major components of the negative influence of fraternities and sororities on campus. As about 50 Swarthmore students begin to join fraternities this fall, leadership of both Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi maintain that their pledge processes and their fraternities as a whole differ completely from the typical national fraternity and are free of traditional elements of exclusivity and hazing.Those opposed to Greek life on campus and concerned with the influence of fraternity culture on social life at Swarthmore remain convinced of its exclusivity. In the comments section of the sorority referendum petition, Hope Brinn ’15 wrote, “Quaker colleges have a history of disallowing Greek life on campus because of their exclusionary (racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist) histories.”Anonymous commentators, meanwhile, repeatedly mentioned “the exclusionary nature of the Greek system in general” and “the clique-ish nature of Greek life.”
But members of both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon said that a mentality of inclusivity — in terms of race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds, and extracurricular interests — differentiates the pledging process and the fraternity experience at Swarthmore from that of other schools.
Phi Psi President Mike Girardi ’13 explained that the fraternity does not issue bids to students — offering membership if they go through the pledging process — by any exclusionary criteria. “When we’re talking about who we want to be in our fraternity, we don’t talk about the color of their skin, how much money they make, what sports they play, or how they orient sexually,” he said. Girardi remarked that Phi Psi has included gay and bisexual members and that none of these factors affect the fraternity’s decisions. Instead, the brothers look at the character and demonstrated interest of potential members. He said that any student who demonstrated any interest over the rushing period in being part of the fraternity would undoubtedly receive a bid. “We’re not an exclusive, closed door society,” Girardi said.
Phi Psi Social Chair Eddie Montenegro ’13 feels that fellow students tend to gather misconceptions about fraternity brothers which do not apply to the Swarthmore organization. He mentioned that he was disturbed by an article in a student publication that deemed Phi Psi “A homogenous group of white boys.” Montenegro recounted that after the article, “One of our members laid out the makeup of the fraternity — socioeconomic, racial, campus activities — and if you really look at it on paper, we are one of the most diverse groups on campus.”
Delta Upsilon is similarly inclusive of a wide variety of Swarthmore students, according to Pledge Master Aaron Moser ’13. He mentioned that the fraternity rarely seeks out or recruits its members, and instead issues bids to those who attend rush events and demonstrate interest. Moser feels that the exclusionary nature of fraternities does not pertain to Swarthmore organizations, and noted that, as in Phi Psi, the only criteria for joining is a genuine interest in being part of the brotherhood.
Isaac Epstein ’14, another Delta Upsilon officer, added depth to this inclusivity of diverse individuals. “There’s no category in which someone would tick a box that would not allow them to be a brother,” he said, noting that any student who identifies as male can join the fraternity. “We never want anyone to be in a position where they feel like something is stopping them from pledging, something about themselves, anything,” Epstein said.
Delta Upsilon also recognizes that the financial costs of membership, in the form of monthly dues to finance social events and upkeep of the fraternity house, can be draining for some students. Epstein said that the organization does not want financial concerns to ever preclude joining the fraternity. To combat this, Delta Upsilon President Sean Mangus ’13 explained that a national Delta Upsilon organization and alumni support enable the Swarthmore chapter to provide scholarships for dues and flexible payment options.
In addition to inclusivity, the officers of both Greek organizations said that their pledging processes, integral to the fraternity experience, are fundamentally different from those of national fraternities due to a lack of hazing.
Girardi was initially apprehensive about the pledging process and believed he would not join a Swarthmore fraternity, as his brother pledged at Vanderbilt University and recounted numerous horror stories. “The stories about pledging were nightmarish, things that I would never even consider doing, things like paddling, crawling on broken glass, getting burnt with cigarette butts, things that I would want nothing to do with,” Girardi said, adding that his brother’s pledge masters modeled the process upon the Chinese Red Army manual for psychological torture.
After speaking to older members of Phi Psi, Girardi was convinced that pledging at Swarthmore would be an entirely different experience, which he found to be true. “Even in the broadest sense of the word, I wouldn’t describe any event we do as hazing,” he said. Girardi explained that to prevent any mistreatment of pledges, Phi Psi creates brother-rush pairs for its pledging events, matching a current brother and a pledge. He also said that brothers who are members of the Drug and Alcohol Response Team are always on hand during rush. “There’s never anything dangerous about it,” Girardi concluded.
Similarly, Moser asserted that Delta Upsilon does not participate in hazing. “From my understanding of hazing, it’s very psychological, and it’s threatening, demeaning, and demoralizing. We don’t do any of that,” Moser said.
Epstein elaborated on the psychological power dynamic characteristic of pledging a fraternity. “In other fraternities, the pledge process is about creating an environment in which the existing brothers are dominant and in a position of power, and the pledges are in a position of submission and are supposed to be afraid,” Epstein said.
He feels that this is antithetical to the purpose of being in a fraternity, and explained that while older Delta Upsilon brothers like to be respected by pledges, they are extremely cautious to avoid creating an environment in which pledges fear the process or their brothers. Mangus added that the Delta Upsilon pledge process is free of traditional hazing-related ultimatums in the form of coercion or threats of bodily harm.
The leadership of Delta Upsilon also said that they were conscious as a brotherhood of the fact that students can feel vulnerable or pressured in a pledging situation, and that they are careful to talk to and restrain pledges individually from exceeding their limits, to make sure they are going through the process in a healthy fashion, especially with alcohol consumption. “No matter what we do, we always have many sober brothers watching everything,” Mangus said. As in Phi Psi, several Delta Upsilon brothers are members of DART. The pledge masters supervise each event while sober, and a Party Associate is on hand as well.
Some students feel that there is still reason to be concerned about the pledging process, even if Swarthmore’s fraternities do not conduct traditional hazing activities.
While Maya Marzouk ’13 acknowledged that she does not think Swarthmore fraternities’ pledging processes are as physically dangerous and psychologically demanding as those at schools with a large emphasis on Greek life, she has significant reservations about several elements of pledging. Marzouk expressed concern with lax administrative oversight of the pledging process. She is concerned that if the amounts of alcohol consumption, already a major factor of pledging, escalate to a dangerous level, there are no authority figures in place to step in.
Marzouk also believes that current fraternity brothers are somewhat at fault for endangering the welfare of pledges, who she said were mostly freshmen. “I don’t think freshmen are familiar with alcohol when they get to Swarthmore, and I think it’s really irresponsible for a bunch of older guys to tell freshmen to drink a lot of alcohol … We don’t need an alcohol-related death or injury,” Marzouk said.
As the pledging process continues throughout the fall and winter, it remains to be seen if fraternity members can dispel widely-held conceptions of exclusivity and disassociate their organizations from typical notions of hazing. Additionally, the introduction of a sorority on campus this spring will provide new opportunities to examine and perhaps redefine traditional notions of Greek life.