After local police and Public Safety officers broke up four parties on a Saturday night shortly before the end of fall semester, students waged a heated debate about drinking culture and fraternities on campus in the comments section of a Daily Gazette article.
Commentators on The Daily Gazette’s article (The Gazette offers online coverage only) covering the party shut-down primarily blamed the fraternities for encouraging binge drinking on campus, perpetuating rape culture, and enacting racist policies. Fraternity members and other students felt as though the accusations stemmed from a variety of factors, including negative stereotypes attached to Greek life, rather than from actual evidence.
During the night in question, the International Club, i-20, hosted a heavily publicized “Arma-get-it-on” apocalypse-themed party at Olde Club, while an “End of the World” party took place at Paces. Additionally, both the Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi fraternities held their winter formals. In the aftermath of the parties, several students were hospitalized. Five received citations for underage drinking, including a Bryn Mawr college student, according to Chief of Police Brian Craig.
One anonymous commentator (entitled “Hmmm…” on The Daily Gazette website) wrote, “The dangerous levels of intoxication and numerous hospitalizations related to the DU formal repulse me to no end… and you all claim you are nothing like a drinking club.”
The commentator (Student 1), who chose to remain anonymous, stood by her description of the fraternities as a drinking club in an interview. “I would prefer that they owned up to that instead of shrouding themselves as some preposterous service or leadership group,” she said. Student 1 added that she did not feel the fraternities were entirely to blame for perpetuating binge drinking on campus, but that the entire campus had a strong drinking culture.
Rory McTear, Delta Upsilon president, disagreed with Student 1’s assessment of the fraternities as drinking clubs and described DU’s community service activities as a way in which the group is more than simply social. During fall semester, DU cleaned up the Swarthmore Friends’ Nursery playground, helped with the Red Cross blood drive and the Swarthmore Friends’ Meeting House jumble sale, participated in a cleanup with the Chester Housing Authority, and joined with the other Greek organizations on campus, Phi Psi fraternity and Not Yet Sisters (soon to become Kappa Alpha Theta sorority), to pick up trash in the Crum Woods, McTear said.
In connection to drinking culture, Student 1 and others raised the issues of sexual assault at the fraternities. “Rape and alcohol are generally co-morbid,” Student 1 said. She added that the social expectations surrounding alcohol at the fraternities contribute to instances of sexual assault on campus and said she feels that students feel safer committing sexual assault in the environments of the fraternities. “I believe the frats need to work on combatting their very obvious rape culture,” Student 1 said.
Student 1 feels that the fraternities have a responsibility to take action when they are aware of brothers who have committed sexual assault, but that this action has not taken place. She believes that fraternity members are aware of fellow brothers who have committed sexual assault or rape, but continue to allow these brothers to participate and in some instances even protect them.
Student 1 said that, in her opinion, the fraternities promote a culture of violence, and that the administration does nothing to curb the problem. While she acknowledged that her evidence of sexual assaults was largely anecdotal, Student 1 sees this as indicative of administrative efforts to shield fraternities from disciplinary scrutiny. “The administrators are out to protect these gross white misogynistic, racist, homophobic groups instead of victims of violence,” she concluded.
Joe Hagedorn ’15, a member of Phi Psi, believes that the accounts of fraternity members perpetuating rape culture stem primarily from the interface between the school’s judicial organizations, privacy policies, and the fraternities.
“The most common complaint seems to be that brothers who have been accused of sexual assault or other offenses are not disciplined by the fraternities,” Hagedorn said. “The problem is, we have absolutely no information about these [disciplinary] proceedings. We can’t punish someone for something we don’t know happened.” Swarthmore does not release the names of students involved in disciplinary cases regarding sexual assault.
McTear detailed Delta Upsilon’s involvement with several on-campus organizations and groups which target issues of sexual assault and rape culture. During fall semester, McTear said, DU joined with SMART to provide sober escorts at Halloween, tabled at Sharples to promote consent, and participated in a workshop hosted by SMART, along with Director of Worth Health Center Beth Kotarski, to discuss how to raise awareness of sexual assault on campus.
“We look forward to teaming up with SMART again this semester to raise awareness for sexual violence by helping with their annual Clothesline Project and Handprint Pledge,” McTear said.
Students also leveled accusations of bigoted policies and behavior at the fraternities in the article’s comments section.
Paul Cato ’15, who has served as the president of two cultural groups in the past two years, including the Swarthmore African American Student Society (SASS) and Achieving Black and Latino Leaders in Excellence (ABLLE) wrote in a comment, “I can attest to the fact that there have been multiple incidents involving inexcusable racial insensitivity by fraternity members at Greek functions, parties, etc… I can confirm the fact that we have had to support the victims of such incidents on multiple occasions.”
However, Cato concluded by thanking the fraternity members to whom he and his groups had reached out, and expressed a desire for the entire campus to make an active effort to prevent such instances.
McTear explained that, in an effort to curb discrimination and create an inclusive atmosphere, DU participated in a workshop at the Intercultural Center (IC) to discuss reaching out to queer students as allies and providing safe spaces for the queer community at Swarthmore. He added that the fraternity is currently in the process of organizing a similar workshop with the IC and ABLLE to provide more inclusive spaces and discuss issues of racial insensitivity.
Lanie Schlessinger ’15, who also weighed in on The Daily Gazette debate, felt as though the accusations leveled by many commentators were founded on anti-Greek and anti-athlete prejudice rather than actual evidence. Schlessinger said that at Swarthmore, athletes and members of Greek organizations are stereotyped as irresponsible, stupid, or poor students as a result of their frequent participation in social activities, stigmatic notions which she feels are tremendously inaccurate.
Schlessinger explained that this stereotyping is not in line with Swarthmore’s usually accepting culture, and that she feels it is paradoxical to claim a commitment to diversity while discriminating against members of Greek organizations.
“I’m not proposing that we construct an affirmative action plan for frat members, and I want to make it very clear that I’m not equating the suffering of ethnic minorities to that of frat members,” Schlessinger clarified. “But when I came here, I was consistently taught that judgment as a whole was unacceptable.” Schlessinger said that while she makes a concerted effort to shed all of the stereotypes and stigmas she previously believed in, the lack of acceptance for Greek groups and athletes keeps her from fully subscribing to this philosophy of inclusivity.
An anonymous commentator called “Junior” (Student 2) wrote that they found Schlessinger’s comparison between anti-fraternity discrimination and other forms of discrimination, such as homophobia and racism, offensive.
“Minority students are marginalized and oppressed. We conduct anti-oppression work to combat that,” Student 2 wrote in the comments section. “The frat brothers do not need anti-oppression work because most come from the most privileged groups of society. They don’t have laws against them. They aren’t victims of hate crimes. They don’t fear for their safety as they walk down the street.”
Student 2 added that anger towards fraternities on campus was not a result of fear of the groups as foreign or different — in fact, Student 2 wrote, fraternity culture permeates the dominant culture. “We challenge the frats because what they’re doing is wrong and runs counter to the values of Swarthmore as an institution. They deserve to be scrutinized,” Student 2 concluded.
Despite efforts by both sides to create a constructive conversation about Greek organizations, students remain bitterly divided over the role of fraternities in shaping campus culture. It remains to be seen how the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta, which takes its place on campus and receives an official charter this semester, will change the debate.