Swat Should Have a Campus Women’s Union

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Our Proposal

In the past few days it has become clear that there is a lack of female-owned social space, or a “lady wet space” if you will, on Swarthmore’s campus. Swarthmore’s social outlets currently include spaces like Paces, Olde Club, Danawell, or Wharton basement, which are multi-purpose and available only for short term use, and the Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi fraternities. While we appreciate the open campus events thrown by the fraternities and their efforts to remain welcoming to all Swarthmore students, these spaces remain exclusively male-owned. A proposed solution to this lack of female social space was the creation of a sorority on Swarthmore’s campus. However, this has been a controversial proposal (to see the debate click here), and fails to resolve the issue at its root. Instead, we would like to propose an alternative solution: the creation of a Swarthmore Campus Women’s Union which would have control of a wet social space in the same manner that the fraternities currently control their houses.

We hope that by establishing a female-controlled space on campus, we can strive as a group to provide a safer, more comfortable space for Swarthmore women to partake in “wet” culture. It should come as no surprise to Swarthmore students that drinking culture poses a very specific set of risks for women. With assessment and understanding of these risks, we would hope to collaborate with ASAP, SMART, DART, SHCs, and other relevant campus groups in determining specific policies to provide resources and to ensure that the space acts to mitigate these risks. More specifically, we feel that by knowing that they share ownership of the space they are in and have the resources and support of the Women’s Union, female identifying individuals would feel more comfortable partaking in social culture at Swarthmore.

The Structure of the Women’s Union:

All women’s groups are automatically members of the Women’s Union.The idea of the Union is not to enforce the gender binary, but to acknowledge the institutionalized difficulties that female-identifying students have faced and continue to face in the campus social scene. The Women’s Union will maintain the specific social space dedicated to mitigating these difficulties. All members and female-identifying students have the privilege to reserve the space for all types of social events.

Control of the space will be by the WU’s board of directors, consisting of one representative from each women’s group and any female-identifying students who choose to join. These women will in turn appoint/elect two booking managers in charge of managing space reservations. Issues with decisions made by the booking managers can be brought before the entire board.

The board is responsible for maintaining the physical space, discussing guidelines for use of the space and ensuring that the space fulfills its intended role (as stated above).

A Discussion on Membership:

The Union wants to prevent further marginalization of already oppressed groups. While identified as a Women’s Union, membership is inclusive and students who reject the gender binary should feel free to consider themselves members as well. In addition, we would really appreciate input by SQU and QSA about how best to serve the needs of the students who fall into this category. Proposed was the idea of an allying group, Trans*Union, which would also be able to access/control the space for events. However, as this is a group created by women, we feel unqualified to make decisions for these students, and instead will support any decisions they come to. Regardless, we remain dedicated to creating a space where all members of campus community can and will feel comfortable.

In response to this proposal, we call on the campus community to have an open discussion concerning the structure of the union, possible locations, and any other concerns.

Joan O’Bryan, member of Women’s Rugby and WICS
Sarah Dwider, member of Women’s Rugby
Lisa Sendrow, President of Swarthmore Feminists
Carmen Perez-Leahy, President of Ladies’ Soiree Society
Taylor Wuerker, President of Women’s Rugby
Emma Thomas, member of Grapevine
Marian Firke, WRC Board Member and member of Swarthmore Feminists


  1. This proposal is everything the sorority proposal wasn’t. It explains the specific problem that the proposed group would solve, clearly outlines a possible leadership structure of the group, and explicitly addresses concerns about exclusivity and diversity. I especially like the idea that all female-identifying students can have a stake in the group, even those who don’t often make use of wet party spaces.

  2. What space does the prospective women’s union envision as being their “lady wet space”. Swarthmore currently, to the best of my knowledge, have an open space that could function as this desired space. Do you propose the construction of a new space just for this purpose? Or does the prospective women’s have another idea in mind for the creation of this space.

    I like this idea much better than the idea of more Greek life on campus, but still see many issues in its implementation.

    • This is one of the points we hoped would be addressed through a general discussion. While we have thrown around a few ideas, all of them do require some rearrangement of campus space and would have to be agreed upon by the Swarthmore community. I personally feel uncomfortable suggesting to any other group that we could make better use of their current space (since I’m kind of biased at the moment…) and was hoping for a few creative reshuffling ideas from other Swat students before we threw ours into the mix. So to turn the question around, what spaces would you (or anyone else for that matter) recommend for a potential WU? How can we make our current campus layout work while making room for a new wet space?

      (I feel like this is one of those “a man wants to cross a river” riddles… )

      • What about a possible renovation of the trailer by Hallowell? It seems to me (I could be completely wrong about this) that the trailer is a very seldom used place on campus. While its current state is not ideal for the location of a WU, it could possibly be expanded to form this new space? It seems that the proximity to other “male owned” wet spaces on campus could make it easily accessible to those who wish to use it. Just a thought.

    • Kitao. It’s barely used as is! The events hosted there could totally still be hosted by the Union.

      Or moved to another (even more prominent?) location.

      Sharing is caring tho.

      • Kitao is not an option. There is only one space for student art, as opposed to the multiple student outlets available for women. Go ahead, have a sorority, but please do not affect other student groups in pursuit of your own interests.

        • First of all, a women’s union is not a sorority. Secondly, student art has the entire building of old tarble. Finally, can someone tell me how often Kitao is even used? I’ve heard of it being used twice so far this semester. Once for the senior class to throw a classy wine night, the next for a photo show (which looks awesome btdubs, going to that). That’s not a lot of events. Giving control of that space to the women’s union wouldn’t prevent these kinds of events. And seeing how infrequently they happen, it doesn’t seem like it would inconvenience anyone at all if the space was shared.

  3. Should there be a sort of campus review of Greek Life as a whole, including alternative party spaces and gendered/ungendered communities? There’s so much to take in and think about–an organized, sanctioned process would be nice.

  4. There already was a lady wet space: the WRC. WRC leadership decided it was oppressive and/or inconvenient to maintain it as a wet space, and changed it to a dry space.

    Since some WRC leadership has turned over, and it has seemed to me pretty lost/scattered in its mission of actually serving women over the last few years, I propose that it would make the most sense to work with the WRC leadership/administration to convert it back to a wet space centered around a new Women’s Union.

    Obviously that wouldn’t preclude current WRCers from hosting whatever dry events they’d like to in the space.

    • Also, I since so many people have been discussing the wetness/dryness of the WRC, i was wondering if we’ve heard from anybody on the board of the WRC. I’ve never even been there, and the vague understanding I have is that they are super-committed to keeping it a dry space. But I don’t even know why I think that, so it may be totally wrong. Somebody who knows more about this correct me please!!!

  5. I love this idea, and I love the thought that was put into this proposal. If this could somehow happen before May 2013 I would be so happy.

  6. It sounds like you’ve really thought about inclusiveness, which I think is an excellent sign. I look forward to hearing more about this!

  7. What consitutes a “women’s group?” Blanket-claiming all such groups as members is one thing, but asking for representatives from each group may result in a wide range of different interest levels. What women’s groups do we have?

    – WRC
    – LaSS
    – SwatFems (Is this exclusive to women?)
    – Grapevine
    – 11 Varsity and 2-3 club sports teams

    While I don’t mean to say this idea isn’t a good one, the proposal here might need some fine-tuning with regards to its governing structure.

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