On March 26, Voices published Swarthmore Athletes’ Statement of Solidarity with Organizing for Survivors (O4S). 112 out of 550 student athletes signed the statement from a variety of different varsity teams on campus, which came out to about ⅕ of varsity student-athletes choosing to put their name on the letter in support. The statement declared student athletes’ support for sexual assault survivors and allies, specifically highlighting O4S’s demands to terminate the frat leases to Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon and democratize the spaces by the start of the 2018-19 school year. The statement addressed the association of athletics with the frats, but maintained that the athletic community still fully supports O4S and all of its demands. This choice to specifically support ending the fraternity leases with Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon has caused discussion among the athletic community, as many members of the varsity sports teams here are either members, or associates of the fraternities. While the statement of solidarity makes a statement on behalf of all members of the athletic community, only ⅕ of Swarthmore varsity athletes chose to sign the statement.
The Swarthmore athletes’ statement of solidarity reads, “this is a statement on behalf of Swarthmore Student Athletes to declare our support for sexual assault survivors and allies as they strive to implement crucial changes in Title IX policies. The athletic community makes up a large portion of the population of Swarthmore College, 36% of the 1,581 students at Swarthmore to be precise. We have survivors among us, and it is time for us to stand up for our teammates, friends, and community. We stand with O4S as they hold Swarthmore’s administration accountable for neglecting the needs and safety of survivors, and pressure the administration to take reformative actions to minimize the possibility of future sexual violence.”
The letter states that the athletic community fully supports all the demands of the O4S, and acknowledges that while the athletic community has strong ties with the fraternities, the athletic community still supports O4S’ demands for Swarthmore College to relinquish its leases with the fraternities.
The statement ends emphatically, calling for athletes to stand up and support survivors.
“We urge all members of Swarthmore’s Athletic community to reflect upon where they stand in terms of support for O4S, and to ask themselves what systems of injustice they are perpetuating through their silence,” the statement reads.
The Swarthmore athletes’ statement of solidarity was written and distributed to varsity teams by Sarah Girard ’19 of volleyball and track and field, Alex Frost ’20 of women’s soccer, Lilly Price ’20 of cross country and track, and Irina Bukharin ’18 of cross country and track. The Phoenix reached out to all four of these student-athletes, but none of them returned requests for comment. One of the four creators said that she did not feel comfortable answering any of the questions without consulting the other three members who helped draft the statement.
Taylor Chiang ’18, a captain of the women’s lacrosse team, expressed solidarity with the movement and illuminated her reasons for signing the letter.
“I signed the student athletes’ letter in solidarity for O4S because personally, I’m in support with all the demands O4S listed. I think bringing awareness and public support for these issues is important. Athletes are a large portion of the student body that frequently take part in the party scene on campus, and I think by signing this letter we can show other students and administration that we are in solidarity and put more pressure for policy changes,” Chiang said.
Members of Swarthmore women’s basketball and softball team who did not sign the statements also gave insight on to their reasoning behind this decision. All four members of these teams who answered chose to remain anonymous, for fear of backlash from the student body. One anonymous female athlete responded, when asked why she did not sign the statement with “I agree with 95% of what was written, but can’t sign something that is going to the administration unless I agree with 100% of it.”
She did not elaborate on what parts she dissented to, but implied that the end to the leases of the fraternity house played a major role in her decision. Most of the female athletes who gave insight on why they did not sign it had similar reasoning; they did not feel comfortable putting their name on something with which they were not fully on board. Another female athlete did not sign it because she frequently goes to the fraternities for social events and felt that signing this statement would make her a hypocrite.
After O4S’s first couple organizing meetings, almost every affinity group, and many student organizations came out with letters expressing solidarity with the movement. Notable letters included those from the Residential Assistants, DPAs, and affinity groups like SASS (Swarthmore African American Student Society), or SAO (Swarthmore Asian Organization). O4S has also received considerable support from members of faculty, as many have attended rallies, community forum meetings, and brought the ongoing campus discussion to their classes. For example Daniel Laurison, assistant professor of sociology, made one of his suggested topics for his foundation of sociology class campus sexual assault, Title IX, and support for survivors.
Out of the 112 of athletes who signed the statement, only 25 of those were male. There was a glaring lack of male signatures. Zero members of the men’s baseball, lacrosse, and basketball teams signed the letter. Six signed from men’s soccer. This distinct lack indicates that athletics at Swarthmore could be one of the major problems O4S might face in changing Swarthmore’s culture around Title IX reform. The varsity athletics community makes up a large portion of the population of Swarthmore College, 36% of the 1,581 students at Swarthmore to be precise.
In order to garner support from the athletic community, O4S may have to reach out and spread their message on a wider scale, especially explaining their long term goals, in order to resonate with people from the athletic department. It is also important to acknowledge that varsity athletes range in levels of involvement outside of athletics. Some athletes have been very involved in the O4S movement and activism around Title IX, and some haven’t. While Swarthmore Athletes’ Statement of Solidarity shows that a significant number of athletes do fully support the O4S movement, it seems like the athletic community is divided over the letter. Some members of the athletic community claim to agree with most, but not all of what O4S is calling for, and subsequently did not sign the letter. However, the messaging on the call to democratize the fraternity spaces have become more complicated. To many, it seemed like this was one of the main focuses of the movement, particularly following the numerous signs that appeared in Sharples, Parrish, and Kohlberg in the past couple weeks, calling for the end of fraternity housing. After going to Community Forum IV on Wednesday April 4, I learned that shutting down Greek Life is not a goal for O4S. While the movement still wants Swarthmore to eventually end the lease on fraternity housing, this is not high on their list of things they want to change in the present. The group is committed to transformative justice, and reimagining how the Title IX system works at Swarthmore all together. They also commented on how cutting the leases with the fraternities would not prevent groups from using that space for parties, including the fraternities if they reserve that space. This would turn these two houses into spaces like Paces and Olde Club. Instead of shutting down Greek life, they want to focus on a shift in school culture that prioritize the needs of survivors. The athletic community might be more willing to support O4S, and less divided amongst itself, if they actually research the O4S demands, particularly how they’ve evolved over the last week or so. In the midst of these ongoing discussions, the athletic department have heard the complaints and issued a mandatory Sexual Violence Team Training for each team in the athletic department in the coming weeks. While this is certainly not a final solution, it is a first step towards creating a more supportive athletic community.