Psi Phi is an organization at Swarthmore that describes itself as being at least partially about having fun on Saturday evenings and pulling what one of its presidents described as “shenanigans.”
No, this is not, Phi Psi a fraternity at Swarthmore. It is Swarthmore’s Science-Fiction fantasy club Psi Phi.
Psi Phi currently has three presidents: Maddie Amodio ’14, Erika Cancio-Bello ’14 and Julia Chartove ’14. The organization was originally called Swarthmore Wardens of Imaginary Literature (SWIL) when the club was first created in 1978. However, in 2007, the name was changed to Psi Phi. In an email, Chartove said that part of the reason for the shift was that “SWIL was kind of a terrible name really” and that some members had mixed feelings about the history of SWIL. Amodio elaborated on this comment by saying that Psi Phi wants to be perceived as a more open group than SWIL had been.
“[SWIL] was a little more insular in general, ML became known as SWIL headquarters … it wasn’t as open as we would like Psi Phi to be.” Amodio hopes that Psi Phi rectifies this component of SWIL and is a club that is accessible to anyone on campus. SWIL still exists as an alumni organization and has reunions once every four years and still communicates with members of Psi Phi.
According to Chartove, the new name was selected as a pun on the fraternity and also “because Greek letters are cool.” Chartove says that the group now unofficially refers to itself as ‘“Psi Phi (not a frat)’ in order to clear up confusion.”
Psi Phi is responsible for about four or five major events a year, such as the annual pterodactyl hunt. This past Sunday, the club had a new event where people could speed date in costume, though costumes were not required. For instance, one student dressed up as an Orc by wearing duct tape armor. “Not that many people showed up,” says Amodio, “but it was lots of fun.” According to Chartove, about a dozen students came to the event. Chartove was pleased that some of these students were not Psi Phi members. Psi Phi is seeking to work on ways to better publicize their events in order to have higher attendance.
Hannah Armbruster ’15 briefly stopped by the event and was impressed by the humor of the questions and the quality of the food. A sample question inquired what the participant’s mundane super power would be. Armbruster’s was to be able to staple things without using a stapler.
After the speed dating, people could go to watch “Breaking Dawn” to laugh at the film and heckle the characters. “One of our main club activities is to show terrible movies, so I was glad to continue that tradition, and we had a lot of great participation from the crowd,” says Chartove.
The group has meetings every Saturday night at 5:30 in Sharples Room 4. “At these meetings, we plan events, but mostly we just have ridiculous conversations involving lots of nonsensical puns and nerdy references. It’s good times,” says Chartove. Amodio talked about a game the group sometimes plays at meetings called “The 1000 blank cards game” In this game, participants write rules on a card that the person who draws it then has to follow. Amodio offered the example of having a rule on a card that edicts that “you may only speak using techno noises” as an example. “We as a group make up the rules as we go along through the cards that we have already created,” Amodio said.
Psi Phi also runs a science fiction fantasy library located in the basement of Parrish, whose official name is the “Cordwainer Bird Memorial Library Memorial Library Memorial Library Memorial Library.” The library, which doubles as a lounge, can seat eight to 10 people and has a picture of Doctor Who on its door.
Chartove says that most people join out of an interest in science-fiction and/or fantasy, but remain with the group for other reasons. “People may come for the sci-fi and fantasy, but they stay because of how incredibly silly we are. So basically, anyone who wants to hang out with a bunch of odd but exciting people would probably enjoy it.” Chartove noted that the club was in fact not “that content specific.”
Emily Dolson ’13 has sporadically been involved in the group since her first year at Swarthmore, but has become more involved recently. She enjoys the Saturday night meetings. “The meetings were even more entertaining than the mailing lists,” said Dolson.
Evelyn Wightman ’15, a member of the group, said in an email that Psi Phi is for “anyone with a healthy appreciation of the absurd. Anyone who wants an excuse to wear their funny hats, or thinks Calvinball, the card game, sounds intriguing, or harbors a secret curiosity about this D&D business. Anyone who wants to spend their Saturday suppers debating a technicality of Magic: The Gathering, or singing along to ‘I’ll make a man out of you’, or having an epic pun-off, or resolving a serious debate with a cutlery battle.”
This year, the club hopes to revive past traditions that have been dropped, such as “spamageddon” — an event which in the past involved hurling spam on the sidewalk — or an event that Amodio called “walpurgisnacht.” Though Amodio has never experienced walpurgisnacht because this event has not been done in the past few years, she has been told that it is “a night of telling horror and fertility stories, as well as stories about trees.”
Psi Phi also hopes to have an event called “Psi Phi Occupy Phi Psi.” The club still needs to talk to the fraternity about making this occur.