On Feb. 3, Phi Psi fraternity hosted an open party for the first time since their suspension in November 2016. The fraternity’s new leadership has tightened their policies, initiated a new emergency protocol and also plans to allow student-run groups to co-host parties. However, some students are skeptical about the fraternity’s ability to change, given their recent history.
During the suspension period, party space on campus was limited; lines to Delta Upsilon fraternity sometimes stretched as long as 20 people on busy nights and PubSafe had shut down the frat on multiple nights for overcrowding.
“I guess there’s more options now and I think people tend to go to Phi Psi after pubnite on Thursdays,” Lily Goldman ’21 said. “DU was shut down this weekend but because Phi Psi was open, there was a party.”
As a first-year student, Goldman had not attended a party at Phi Psi before this semester.
“Partying isn’t really my favorite thing to do, so I’m not like, ‘Yes, Phi Psi! Take me there!’ But I have fun when I go,” she said.
In November 2016, the College Judiciary Committee suspended Phi Psi until the end of 2017 and declared that the fraternity would be on probation for all of 2018. The official reason given for the suspension was that the fraternity had violated the college’s alcohol and other drugs policies by serving hard alcohol at an October 2016 party. However, some suspect that the CJC issued tough sanctions for additional factors.
“I think that was the official thing that happened, but if that had been the only issue, then a year’s suspension would have been absolutely ridiculous,” Phi Psi co-vice president, Christian Vik ’19, said. “I think that the school was upset because there had been a bunch of small issues that they couldn’t do anything about … there was a little bit of a build up, then at the end they kinda said, ‘Oh, we’re sick of it, you guys are going to go off for a year.’”
The college owns the Phi Psi house and leases it to the fraternity each semester. During the fraternity’s suspension, the Phi Psi house was closed off both to the fraternity members and to the public.
“Everyone is really excited to be back … we do have a big privilege having this space, it’s hard to go from having it to not having it,” current Phi Psi president Mark Hergenroeder ’19 said. “But I think the past is the past, we’re going to make sure it isn’t going to happen again … we’re going to make sure that we’re tighter at policing ourselves.”
The fraternity worked to both continue existing programs and to brainstorm new rules during suspension. Some members met with Interim Title IX fellow Raven Bennett about the Fraternity Mentorship Program, an educational program in which members attend training on and older fraternity members mentor new fraternity members on topics such as gender and sexuality, masculinity, alcohol and other drugs, consent and allyship, and bystander intervention.
“I met with a few individuals who are members of Phi Psi during its suspension in order to get a sense of how I should plan for the spring semester,” Bennett wrote in an email to the Phoenix. “I would like to see continued participation in the Fraternity Mentorship Program because it creates the opportunity for members of the fraternities to engage in dialogue with staff around important topics.”
As a condition of their suspension, Phi Psi leadership was required to develop a comprehensive emergency protocol.
“It’s like ten pages of different, stricter rules we can implement at a party,” Hergenroeder said.
Among other things, the new policy requires that all bartenders be sober, prohibits partygoers from going into the upstairs room, and increases the number of brothers who are designated as party monitors. Hergenroeder also mentioned that Phi Psi has continued to foster relationships with Public Safety. These changes all came about in the past month, since the Phi Psi brothers were not allowed to meet formally during the suspension period, save for a mandatory meeting with Office of Student Engagement Director Andrew Barclay and Alcohol and Other Drugs Counselor Josh Ellow in fall 2017.
In addition to rolling out policy changes, Phi Psi has decided to allow student groups to co-host parties at the house.
“We have a nice space so what we plan to do is co-host parties with other student organizations more frequently. In the past we would be like ‘Phi Psi and ABLLE present XYZ party’. But what we want to do is have someone from their group literally be a co-host and have them be on the party permit,” Hergenroeder said.
However, some students are skeptical of the potential of these changes to substantially alter the environment at the fraternities.
“I think they’re acting very intelligently in the interest of self-preservation given the history they have on this campus,” Luke Barbano ’18 said. “The fact that they were almost kicked off of campus six years ago, they are playing their cards right in terms of not letting in people that they know are going to be problematic, playing to the desire of the student body to let other student groups use their space in order for people to like them more and to ameliorate their reputation.”
The frats have had a notoriously fraught relationship with the student body, most notably during the spring semester of 2013, also known as “The Spring of our Discontent.” Following protests from the student body, multiple New York Times articles and the filing of complaints with twelve student testimonies through the Clery Act and Title IX about the mishandling of sexual assault cases, the college held a referendum. The vote upheld the presence of the fraternities with 61 percent voting in favor of the fraternities and 29 percent voting for their abolishment. A vote on whether to allow the frats but take away their designated houses received 52 percent “No” and 36 percent “Yes.” Barbano attributes the current success of the fraternities to the fact that freshman are unaware of events that transpired during this time.
“I don’t like fraternities as institutions…Traditionally—not so much in the past few years, but at least when I was a freshman—there was widespread anti-fraternity sentiment,” Barbano said. “But because people have graduated—people with important institutional knowledge about the history of Phi Psi—the anti-fraternity sentiment has eased up.”
Daria Una Mateescu ’20 also feels that fraternities as an institution are problematic, but expressed cautious optimism about the recent reforms.
“I think certain members of the frats are really trying to make them more inclusive and safe for women and I fully appreciate that and am grateful for their efforts,” she said. “However, I think the premise of a frat makes it inextricable from masculinity and to that extent I cannot imagine a way for an all-male frat to not pose many problems to the safety and comfort and enjoyment of women. I think the new direction is good, and just hope that this is an earnest attempt at inclusivity rather than a self-benefiting performance.”
Vik acknowledged the complications inherent in policy changes arising out of a college-enforced suspension. He feels, however, that regardless of the catalyst, the changes could have positive effects.
“I think that … we needed to kind of get a wake up call and realize that we needed to change in some ways,” Vik said. “I definitely think that the fraternities are under a lot more scrutiny than other areas of campus when it comes to what happens at parties. But I do think that, as much as it sucked, we do have a good chance now to give ourselves a little kick [and] move ourselves into a better space as a group and fix some of the issues that might have been there before now that we, for all intents and purposes, have a clean slate.”
According to Vik, the student body overly scrutinizes fraternities; Mateescu also feels that the hyper-focus on fraternities’ issues leads students to overlook the other origins of party-related issues.
“Frat bros perpetuate toxic masculinity, and so does the guy that proclaims liberal ideology only to shame you for promiscuity or feign allyship for the sake of getting you into bed,” she said. “I think frats are so obviously non-femme oriented that it can be dangerous to use them as a scapegoat for all the masculine violence on this campus.”
According to Goldman, the general party scene at the college is more open than at other schools.
“I like how [the party scene] is really inclusive and how everyone can go to every party because at a lot of schools, that’s not the case,” Goldman said. “It just makes for an inclusive school environment, which I think is cool.”
However, some feel that the fraternities in particular cater to a more limited section of the student body than do party spaces like Paces and Olde Club, which are open to any students who want to host a party on a Thursday or Saturday night.
“I don’t usually go out, but if I do go out, it’s definitely not to the frats. Whenever I do go there, I just feel uncomfortable around people there,” Adam Augustin ’20 said. “I only went [to Phi Psi] once or twice, during freshman year. Most of my friends don’t like going to the frats because they don’t really fit in with that sort of group, they say … Last week, we went to the Enlace pubnite and that was sort of fun because we think the music’s better and the vibe feels more comfortable. It feels more like we can really be who we are.”
Barbano, who is currently a PubNite officer, echoed Augustin’s comment about inclusivity.
“It’s obvious based on who is there consistently that the people that feel included are very broadly male athletes and female athletes, but more specifically the lacrosse team that has a close relationship with the male lacrosse team and the associates of those individuals,” Barbano said.
Barbano feels that because more students feel comfortable at open party environments like Pubnite and Olde Club, the party scene would be better if the fraternity houses were turned into public party spaces.
“It’s pretty clear that Paces and Olde Club and other public party spaces are the most successful or the most popular venues for student parties and the places where the most memorable and enjoyed events have happened in the past. I think that’s a pretty fair statement to say,” Barbano said. “Phi Psi’s house itself is a shell that the students would be okay with any other snail occupying. There is nothing specific to the current occupants of this shell that make it great.”
Yet typically, crowd-funded party spaces and events such as PubNite and NuWave, a “safe, inclusive and consent-oriented” party group that cropped up in the fall of 2016, have struggled to collect necessary funds to host parties on a consistent basis. The college’s policies dictate that students cannot charge entry fees for parties or use college funds to buy alcohol. Vik feels that the fraternities’ willingness to pay for alcohol for public parties significantly contributes to the college’s party scene.
“I do think without the two fraternities, the campus life would look a lot different on the weekends. Not that many people want to front a couple hundred dollars to pay for everyone else,” Vik said.
The reopening of Phi Psi allows for a less crowded Saturday night party scene and the possibility of a different party environment. However, the conversation around their complicated role and history on campus will no doubt continue.
Correction made on Feb. 17: The article previously incorrectly stated that Luke Barbano was a former PubNite officer when he is a current PubNite officer. The error has been amended above.