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.
My heart’s beating out of my chest as I write this. My friends tell me that’s a good thing, though. That means what I have to say is meaningful — important somehow. They tell me that means I definitely have to share it. I can’t help but feel like my heart beating this fast is the sign of something bad, but I’ll try to heed all the encouragement, tell my story, and not look back. I’ll try to interpret the uncontrollable racing of my heart as a sign my mind and body are telling me to just get it all out there already.
“Get out. No fags allowed,” he said as 5 or 6 brothers looked on, one of them my good friend.
Scared and confused, I had no idea what to do. Wasn’t this my good friend’s “brother?” More importantly, why was my friend (brother of the guy presently trying to push me out the fraternity’s door) standing, emotionless and unfazed, Solo cup in hand, watching all of this happen? I thought he said he was going to be there for me. I had to get over my confusion pretty quickly and respond to the fact that I had a hulking and somewhat intoxicated man shoving me and commanding me to leave his fraternity on the basis of my newly admitted sexual orientation. I had come out to my best friend a couple weeks prior and subsequently decided to pull the cork. I came out to my hallmates, who decided to take me out to the fraternities for the night. The walk from Wharton was short, and I was happy to have such good company. All of ten minutes passed once we’d passed through the door of the fraternity before my hallmate brought to my other friends’ attention her excitement about my being newly out. She grabbed my hand and raised it up, proclaiming her happiness that I was gay and okay with it, then she walked off to get a drink. It took all of ten seconds for the glowing smile of my friend to disappear and be replaced by the shock of having the hand of someone I didn’t know shove his hand into my back. My response may not have been the most stouthearted, but I thought it most logical to follow the boy’s directions and head for the door.
Things like this weren’t supposed to happen – at least in 2010 they weren’t. They certainly weren’t supposed to happen at Swarthmore, where I had been, for the most part, welcomed out of the closet with open arms by close friends and acquaintances alike. I’ve grown aware that peculiar, very un-Swarthmorean things have a way of increasing in frequency as I increase my interaction with greek life.
For the record, I don’t walk around assuming every member of DU or Phi Psi is a bad person; Moreover, I don’t assume that fraternity members are by default capable of heinous moral or physical atrocities. However, certain members of the fraternities are protected from the ramifications their actions deserve by the tacit understanding that brothers won’t throw each other under the bus. I suppose my firsthand experiences with fraternity culture at Swat could lend themselves to the dialogue as we approach the question posed by the referendum.
There are some great guys in the frats. Sometimes they just seem hard to find beneath all the “bro-culture.” Joining a fraternity has the advantage of camaraderie, albeit a manufactured form of it. Fraternity brothers seem to be all about being there for their brethren — an idea to which I’m not fundamentally opposed. One fraternity even mandates that throughout the multiple-week pledge process one must keep a “pledge pack” on his person at all times, stocked with various things a fellow brother might need (cigarettes, lighters, condoms, quarters, etc.). From the start, fraternity brothers are taught they must be there for one another.
Therein lies the source of the bond between frat brothers, and it is a “good” bond indeed — good enough to get one of my closest friends (and newly initiated fraternity member) to stay silent while his “brother” shoved me towards the door and told me “faggots [weren’t] allowed.” I suppose when this guy paid his dues to the fraternity he was also buying protection — immunity, one might say. A valuable commodity indeed. At least I couldn’t think of any other social group on campus known for its willingness to ignore the bashing of their non-fraternity brother friend in return for the promise of “brotherhood.” I suppose the only way I’d get access to this preferential treatment would be to join the fraternity.
I was definitely not the only person to have a negative experience with greek life around this time. A lot of the negative press the fraternities have received in the past few years was concentrated around the few months before and after the incident. I remember hearing that a couple months prior, a new member of the Swarthmore greek life scene had left the fraternity on the grounds that he was called racist slurs and felt generally prejudiced against.
Every other night, my friend would tell me this guy was going to get kicked out. Maybe he thought the fact they were considering this was solace after what had happened at the frat party that night. I didn’t really care either way. I thought maybe after the fourth or fifth incident committed by this one brother who’d kicked me out of his fraternity, my friend might have an epiphany and realize that maybe this was a trend. I’ll admit, I did experience a certain level of discomfort in knowing that my friend was advocating for this guy to be allowed to stay in the fraternity. I think what made me most uncomfortable was his willingness to call this guy his “brother,” despite everything he’d seen and heard. I knew that the connection between siblings was supposed to be very strong, but somehow it seemed wrong that my friend couldn’t see past this blinding brother-bond to the fact that I’d been singled out for being gay and pushed out of a party while being called a faggot by this guy. If anything, I feel like he should have just admitted his fraternal brother’s wrongs for him in an effort to save face and the chance that I might still remain supportive of the fraternity he had gotten involved in. I thought he’d at least want me to have some good impressions of the group he’d joined. It was, after all, the first frat party I’d gone to after coming out.
The greek scene at Swat has shown the remarkable ability to surprise me over and over again. The word “faggot” nonetheless revisited me this year after I was invited to a new friend to his fellow fraternity member’s apartment. I sat on his couch and listened to the two of them name gay Swat students and decide whether or not they were “f*cking fags.” Needless to say, the scales tipped heavily in the direction of Swarthmore being infested by these nuisances of men, whom they both found “annoying” and “weird.” Those at the top of this newly laid out hierarchy were badly off – some of them were “so f*cking faggy” they deserved to get “smacked.” I sat there wondering if I’d have made the list if I weren’t sitting in this guy’s living room. I couldn’t decide which made me more uncomfortable: the sheer possibility that I may have made the list had I not been sitting there, or the fact that so many of dearest and most respected friends had just been gay-bashed from afar.
I asked them if this was something they’d talked about before. They both said yes. Perturbed, I asked one of them if he ever got worried about offending someone.
“Well, I’m just glad he’s not a faggot.” All’s well in the company of brothers — so long as they aren’t faggots, I suppose.
You might be reading this and asking why I didn’t react more strongly then. Fear, maybe. Fear of feeling more hurt than I had felt minutes before as my friend (who to this day supports Swarthmore’s greek life and, moreover, respects the very fraternity brother who made this hateful adjudication) was condemned to “so f*cking faggy” status.
I’m in the class of 2015 now. I came back last year, but only for a couple months. I had to leave pretty soon after arriving at Swat because I had mono. Long story short, I survived. During my two months back, I got a couple glimpses of an emerging sorority culture and heard about a referendum. Two months here at Swat and I had the impression that a sorority was something a group of students wanted to move towards establishing, but support was relatively low. I left with the notion that it wasn’t going to happen. Or so I thought. From afar, I heard of attempts on the part of students to get a referendum going on the existence of the sorority. Of course, that wasn’t going to work. And it shouldn’t, either. This school is too egalitarian to do that. Hell, I’m too egalitarian to feel we can just go around stripping groups of their ability to exist (without extensive discussion as to why that might be a reasonable option).
At the beginning of this year, I could barely stand the mention of a sorority being brought to campus. I saw it as pretty antithetical to the whole idea of Swarthmore. I knew I wasn’t alone in harboring those feelings. I’m not going to say that I’ve changed my views on the sorority entirely, but I certainly don’t see it as the biggest issue right now. How could it be, anyway? It’s barely had enough time to make its name known on campus. The only examples of the effects of greek life we have to go off of, after all, stem from the two established houses that currently reside on campus. Swarthmore’s fraternities have had more than a century to demonstrate their role here. To me, that seems a fair amount of time to demonstrate your role on campus, come up against whatever issues the Swarthmore community might have with your group, and solve most of them. Or at least try.
I present you with my story. It’s been hard, obviously, not to take everything DU and Phi Psi say about their being inclusive with a grain of salt. I can’t help but feel uncertainty when I listen to the sorority’s statements regarding how inclusive it is and will continue to be.
There is one thing of which I am certain — I know I am not alone. I know because I have had conversations with countless individuals too shy or too scared to come out with their own stories and experiences with greek life. I will also be the first to admit that I know and support the arguments of many a fraternity brother and new sorority sister and recognize the validity of their respective positions when they are voiced with reason and good intent. This is not a war. I am not looking to engage in battle. I am looking to see if others are willing to share their experiences, no matter how brief, how insignificant they may seem. I have quite a few friends who have either been members of the greek system or are current members of the greek system, some of whom I consider very close. Their decision to join greek organizations is personal, and I do not hold their decision against them. I cannot, however, stand by the argument that the only people affected by greek life are those involved in it. One would be hard-pressed to frame my sitting on a sofa while two members of Swarthmore’s greek culture berate friends of mine and theirs based on sexual orientation as my deliberately getting involved in greek life. I can only hope that others who have qualms about greek life at Swarthmore will feel empowered enough to say something in the coming weeks — however small and insignificant they might feel it to be.
If anything, I seek to prove that my own suspicions about the greek system are indeed rooted in truth, however ugly that truth may be.
-Op-Ed submitted by Parker Murray ’15