After one of the college’s most heated debates, students voted down all but one of the referendum propositions that sought to alter the shape of Greek life on campus. With roughly 80 percent of the student population casting a ballot, students rejected proposals to disaffiliate Greek organizations from their national chapters, eliminate, reduce or make fraternity houses into substance-free spaces, or ban Greek life altogether.
Supporters of Greek life were, overall, pleased with the outcome of the referendum. “I’d say that as a group, Phi Psi is satisfied,” said Zachary Schaffer ’14, the president of Phi Psi.
Rory McTear ’13, the president of Delta Upsilon (DU), expressed the same sentiment. “We’re definitely satisfied by the results,” he said.
The end of the referendum marks an important moment in the dialogue and, for now, an end to the campaign to ban fraternities that began on February 14 when several students posted a petition to have a referendum on the existence of Greek life. “I don’t see the sense in pushing for something the community doesn’t want,” said Joyce Wu ’15, one of the students who started the petition.
Wu, however, added that the percentages of votes many of the proposals received meant that, regardless of failure, there were still concerns that must be addressed. “Two of them had 36 percent of people saying ‘yes,’” said Wu. “With those numbers, it gives us a way to move forward in taking action.”
Furthermore, not all of the referendum was voted down. By a 20-percent margin, students voted in favor of having Greek organizations admit students of all genders. That proposition will now be forwarded to the Deans’ Office, college president and Board of Managers, who will have the final say on its implementation.
Associate Dean of Student Life Myrt Westphal said that the administration was not yet entirely sure what its response to the passing proposition would be. But male students shouldn’t plan on rushing Kappa Alpha Theta too soon.
“I would say not to expect any immediate changes in policy,” said Westphal, who said that before administrators could examine that proposition, they first needed to clarify what exactly it meant.
“We don’t know what question two is telling us because of the way it was worded,” she said. “If it had been worded, ‘we think all of the fraternities should be co-ed,’ then that would be different.” But as Westphal pointed out, some students voted in favor of that proposition thinking it would ensure that a trans woman, for example, could rush the sorority, and not that it would mean a self-identifying man could join Theta.
“I think people who had diametrically opposed opinions may have voted the same way because they misunderstood the question,” she said.
While McTear said that he and the other brothers of Delta Upsilon were “one-hundred percent in support of” the concept of a co-ed Greek institution, he felt forcing Delta Upsilon to go co-ed would be a bad idea. “It would jeopardize our relationships with the national fraternity if we were to become a co-ed, gender inclusive fraternity. That’s a relationship we really cherish and want to maintain,” he said, emphasizing that the students voted that they did not support having Greek organizations disaffiliate. “The student body has agreed … that we should maintain our national affiliation, so that’s something we don’t want to jeopardize.”
Wu understood Delta Upsilon’s situation, pointing out that because the provision calling for the fraternities to disassociate with their national charters failed, asking them to admit more than one gender was tricky. “They are kind of contradictory,” Wu said, adding that she, and others, would need to talk to more people before any decision could be made.
According to Schaffer, the provision poses less of a problem for Phi Psi. “It’s more of an issue for the people who have national charters.”
While Schaffer could make no firm predictions for what would happen if someone who was not male tried to join Phi Psi, he suggested that the group would not close its doors. “I don’t think we’d turn them away. I think we have to be open and let them go through the process.”
He added that while there was no precedent for having Phi Psi be gender-inclusive, there is not, as far as he can remember, any prohibition on students of other genders joining. “Anyone is free to join if they want. They just have to go through the normal pledging process,” Schaffer said.
Still, Schaffer said that the organization would prefer to wait till the administration makes a final decision, and that, based on tradition, the fraternity would prefer to stay exclusive to male students. “I think our alumni would like to see it sort of stay with the composition that it has now,” he said.
But while Schaffer was less concerned about the ultimate outcome of the referendum, he was not pleased with the way the fight was conducted.
“I think the way the referendum process turned out was kind of embarrassing,” he said. “It turned into a really ugly thing that started out as a constructive dialogue between the two sides.”
In particular, Schaffer felt that the fraternities came under attacks that were unnecessarily personal.
“I think one of the most disturbing parts of the whole referendum process were the unwarranted accusations,” he said, referring, for example, to the chalkings accusing the organizations of harboring “a certain number of rapists.”
“It’s a false accusation with no evidence, no backing, and no one signing the statement,” he said.
However, Westphal said that some felt that erasing the chalkings crossed the boundaries of censorship. Westphal talked to a number of students in the wake of the chalkings. “One was a woman who had written about a rape of her that someone had washed off the sidewalk and she felt like that was making her rape insignificant and erased.”
But another had the opposite response. “I spoke to another woman who said, ‘I feel like I’m triggered and re-assaulted every time I walk on a pavement around here,’” said Westphal.
McTear felt the debate divided the campus to an unhealthy degree. “It has become a very polarized campus and that’s disheartening.”
Westphal agreed. “I haven’t seen Swarthmore students so strongly opposed to each other as in this conversation or debate.”
Regardless, students felt that the conversation needed to continue. Indeed, McTear indicated that he thought the process, in spite of the polarization, was beneficial. “The discussions, when we had them, were very positive and I hope we continue to have them,” he said, adding that his fraternity was trying to be more attentive to campus concerned.
Ashley Gochoco ’14, one of the leaders of Theta, said the sorority had similar aims. “The referendum serves as a reminder of this reality and the need for the Greek community to play a stronger role in making Swarthmore the most inclusive and safe place possible,” she said.
Wu pointed out that the high turnout rate and rancor indicated that this was an issue people felt strongly about. “Whatever peoples’ opinions are, they definitely do care.”
Joyce Wu is chief copy editor for The Phoenix. She had no role in the production of this article.