Staff Editorial: Bans Aside, There’s Plenty To Discuss

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.

The referendum can happen.

With well over 150 student signatures, the student petition for a referendum on whether Greek life should continue to exist on campus is constitutionally allowed to proceed. While this referendum will not create the ideal circumstances for a campus-wide discussion on fraternities and sororities, it is an opportunity for Swarthmore to work through its Greek crisis.

We realize the referendum puts the sorority and the fraternities on the defensive. What began as a request for more dialogue around the creation of a sorority evolved into a campus-wide attack on Greek life. The stakes have been raised and, as a result, the fraternities and sorority must come to the table not to critically discuss their influence, but to defend their existence. Under these conditions, we at The Daily Gazette anticipate not greater dialogue, but deeper divides. The fraternities are unlikely to feel comfortable admitting any faults with Swarthmore’s Greek life for fear of tipping the scales against them. The sorority has not had time to back up its promises with action and can do little more than repeat what it’s been saying for the past year.

But the fraternities and sorority are not being unjustly singled out. Indeed, this referendum should not come as a surprise. Many students have been asking for a critical, campus-wide discussion of Greek life for over a year to no avail. Kappa Alpha Theta asserts that its informational meetings sufficed. However, who felt comfortable at these interest meetings except those looking to join? No one showed up to rush week at the frats looking for meaningful dialogue on gender identity or economic exclusivity either. You see our point.

We see this referendum as having emerged out of the desperation of students who felt blindsided by the creation of the sorority and powerless in the face of radical changes on their campus. While the conditions are not ideal, we encourage the fraternities and sorority to use this as an opportunity to acknowledge their influence on campus and take note of students’ concerns. If anything, the petition has shown that a significant portion of the student body is concerned with the role of Greek life on campus. How receptive the fraternities and sorority are will shape student social life for better or worse.

We would like to address a few illogical arguments we’ve noticed in the Greek life debates so far. Once we take a critical look at what Greek life is and the influence it has, we can begin shaping the future of Swarthmore’s social culture instead of remaining entrenched in our positions.

Some have likened Greek life to minority cultural, religious, and racial groups on campus, arguing that letting the majority decide their fate amounts to discrimination. Just because the majority of Swatties are not a part of Greek life does not mean that Greek organizations are an oppressed minority. The argument that queer, black, or Republican groups could just as easily share a similar fate of censorship and persecution is simply alarmist, a thought experiment. These groups are not in the same category as Greek organizations for a variety of reasons. Playing the diversity card is only a cheap way of firing back at students who raise concerns about exclusion to the fraternities and sorority based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.

Sororities and fraternities are not simply student groups with Greek names. The fraternities and sorority do important community service work, but let’s not make them out to be volunteer clubs. Sports teams also have initiations. Peaslee has an alumni network. Students in groups like Mountain Justice are forming bonds that will last far beyond graduation, but the similarities end there. Delta Upsilon and Kappa Alpha Theta are national organizations. They incorporate rules and rituals beyond Swarthmore’s control. Evidence of diverging priorities is apparent with the questions of gender-identity requirements with Kappa Alpha Theta. In an email to The Daily Gazette this week, Kappa Alpha Theta Director of Communications Liz Rinck confirmed that a student who identifies as a woman must be recorded as female by the College in order to pledge. This stands in contradiction to Swarthmore’s chapter’s expectations. While The Daily Gazette is confident the Swarthmore chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta is committed to being gender-inclusive, we find this miscommunication troubling. We recommend that campus discussions be used as an opportunity to clear up diverging expectations between Swarthmore and national organizations.

To those hoping to keep their heads down and wait until it all blows over, we hope that you will participate in campus discussion on Greek life. The argument that participation in Greek life is optional, and that those opposed can simply choose not to go to the fraternities, denies the influence of these organizations. The fraternities host more weekend parties than other campus groups. With over 150 sisters and brothers on campus, Greek organizations are also one of the largest organizations on campus. Trivializing the effect Greek life has on campus life and the culture of Swarthmore not only diminishes the earnest concerns of those calling for open discussions, it endorses a fractured Swarthmore. If parties at the fraternities are open to the entire campus, and often receive school funding, let’s find out why a significant portion of Swatties don’t feel welcome or comfortable.

Given the current state of discussion, the decision of the fraternities to collectively decline to comment while a significant portion of the student body is calling for discussion is not productive, though it is understandable. The tone of this discussion needs to be shifted.

All this being said, Greek life gets a bad rap on campus. Discussions will provide an opportunity to address concerns that arise throughout Swarthmore’s social environment, such as sexual assault, alcohol abuse, and socioeconomic exclusion. They will also provide Greek organizations an opportunity to demonstrate their continued commitment to promoting a welcoming and healthy culture at Swarthmore. We should hope that an honest and thorough self-evaluation on the side of the fraternities and sorority would be met with open minds, knowing that brothers and sisters are Swatties too. We all share similar values of equality, diversity, individuality, connection, and respect for others. We need to help each other and ourselves to make these values a reality on our campus.

The Daily Gazette looks to StuCo to lead these discussions, but we have our doubts. A referendum was shot down last year on the sorority because reinstating the sorority was a Title IX issue. Unfortunately, campus-wide discussion was shut down with it. At their Sunday night meeting, StuCo said it would like to check with Dean of Students Liz Braun to find out if a student referendum on Greek life could actually ban fraternities and sororities on campus. While we appreciate StuCo’s desire to keep the channels of communication open between students and the administration, StuCo’s instinct to turn to the administration before facing the student body is unacceptable. We would like to remind StuCo that its constitution does not require a dean to cosign. With this in mind, the idea that the proposed referendum should simply be treated as an opinion poll is out of the question.

If the goal of the referendum is more discussion, this is not the right one.

The referendum has not yet been officially presented, meaning the student body can still affect the future of this referendum. Students could level the terms of the discussions through dropping the referendum, or putting forth a new one to call for reforms rather than abolishment. To have a truly open dialogue about Greek Life on campus, referendum or no, we need to put away the stereotypes, the excuses, and the aggressive tactics that have stymied any productive effort up to this point.



  1. Speaking of DISCUSSION, there are way too many Greek-life Daily Gazette DISCUSSION threads for me to keep up with my sarcastic and ultimately unproductive commentary on! Write an article about that.

    Oh, but this quote tho: “Given the current state of discussion, the decision of the fraternities to collectively decline to comment while a significant portion of the student body is calling for discussion is not productive, though it is understandable.”

    hahaha forever

  2. “Peasley has an alumni network.”

    1) this is not how you spell Peaslee
    2) pleaslee tell me more about our alumni network. as far as I know, I’m one of 2-3 people with a list of alumni (that I have been independently compiling)
    3) Peaslee is part of a National organization, to which we pay dues and follow explicit rules, not always to our liking. part of being in a larger organization is being proactive in discussion and creation of rules and regulations, not just reacting to things you don’t like. which is exactly the role that Peaslee takes.

    • “part of being in a larger organization is being proactive in discussion and creation of rules and regulations, not just reacting to things you don’t like. which is exactly the role that Peaslee takes.”

      Really? Thanks for sharing.

    • Sorry for the typo, and you’re way ahead of us with your alumni network! Peaslee is a member of the American Parliamentary Debate Association which allows you to compete at debate tournaments. I likened this to The Daily Gazette being a member of the Associated Collegiate Press, to which we pay dues and submit work for awards at national conferences. We also are supposed to follow a whole litany of rules and regulations (mostly stylistic) which we do, sometimes (we love the oxford comma, and the AP doesn’t). Perhaps you could elaborate on the kinds of rules Peaslee follows? Also is there a distinction to being a member of a national organization (like your English professor being a member of the Modern Languages Assocation) and being a chapter of a national organization? Do you think your membership in the APDA is comparable to regulations from Delta Upsilon and Kappa Alpha Theta?

      You make a good point. This isn’t an argument against national organizations. We are trying to draw helpful distinctions between Greek life and a debate society, but those are debatable.

      Max Nesterak ’13
      Co-Editor in Chief

      • I promise I will respond, and I’m more than happy to talk with people who have any questions, but I have seminar in 45 minutes…

        SO before people go crazy w/ the comments, I swear I will reply (just not at this second).


      • Hey all, thanks for being patient.

        Here are the rules we follow:

        Unlike the Associated College Press, our rules and regulations are not the same as our “best practices”. That is, there are explicitly things you must do in a certain way, and other things you are expected to do a certain way with perhaps a little wiggle room for interpretation.

        Because we host campus events twice a year, we must follow the rules or we lose our privileges, and we lose the respect of other teams and individuals on the circuit (this has happened). This is much like Swarthmore- if Greek life refuses to follow the rules, they lose national cert, and they definitely lose campus privileges, not to mention losing the respect of campus at large (and this has also happened).

        Peaslee is also an organization that expects a lot of its members. We say it mostly in jest, but we tell novices stories to pass along traditions, tell them stories about people from other schools, even who we as individuals are/ aren’t friends with, expecting that in some way members of the team will stick together as a group. When I was Peaslee president, I used to joke that, “every day is a Peaslee day,” because there was not a day that went by where I spent less than 2 hours working on Peaslee business, not to mention the fact that a good portion of the team dedicates the entirety of their Fridays and Saturdays solely to debating. By no means is this everyone’s experience with Peaslee, but it is my experience.

        But overall, I think the regulations arguments are less significant than the personal argument. As has been echoed in other posts, everyone involved in Greek life or any other organization on campus identifies as a Swattie first, a member of X group second. I identify as a Music and Political Science double major, a former president of Peaslee, a co-President of Chester Youth Court Volunteers, a Senior Class Officer, and then as a Theta. I am disturbed by much of the conversation in which people have decided it is acceptable or appropriate to tell me what my identity is/ should be/ will be on this campus. Not only do I think it is inconsiderate, but it is also the opposite of allowing me to create and feel comfortable in my own identity– which is a significant part of the debate.

        Should people be able to decide who they are, and be comfortable with that decision? Yes, without a doubt. Where I grow hesitant is when labels are assigned to these communities making generalizations. For example, overheard in Sharples, “the Queer community is all against Greek life.” This is a) not true, and b) dismissive of the rights of the individual. And it is exactly the same to say that all Theta’s look alike or will act the same way.

        Disclaimer: I look at all of this through the eyes of a debater. That is, I want to build the strongest arguments for both sides in order to understand. And from a debate perspective, I think that the “winning side” is to allow people maximum access that is monitored not only by administration but by a community that is invested in maintaining a space for everyone.

  3. “Playing the diversity card is only a cheap way of firing back at students who raise concerns about exclusion to the fraternities and sorority based on race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.”

    I think it’s troubling that you are so dismissive of process concerns in this whole referendum process. I think you are right that it’s hard to argue that members of the fraternities are oppressed minorities, but they *are* a minority on this campus in the strictest sense of the word. Moreover, they happen to be an unpopular one at that. How do we know that 10 years from now, there won’t be another group on campus that just so happens to earn the ire of the student body at large? What if it’s the rugby team, or Hillel, or SAO, or SQU? Should the student body hold a referendum on whether or not they should be allowed to continue to exist? If the only answer is that those group aren’t as unpopular as the frats, then we have a real problem. Process rights are designed to protect everyone, regardless of how popular or unpopular they are with the majority. And it seems terribly misguided to think that a majority of the student body should be allowed to tell a group that they can no longer exist.

    Now, all that being said, I think there are real conversations to be had about the fraternities and greek life in general on this campus. We should have a real conversation about the way that the space we allow the frats to occupy (even if they pay rent) privileges them and unduly institutionalizes that particular culture on this campus. We should also discuss whether or not most of the problems that we see coming from the frats couldn’t be resolved by making the frats co-ed. I don’t have any easy answers, and I’d love to hear more from other people about some of these ideas. But trying to ban greek life seems to me to be an unreasonable exercise of power by the campus majority, and it’s one that sets a terrible precedent for the future.

  4. Just as an aside, DU’s building was created via monies collected from the brotherhood, from the early years all the way until the 1920s, when the dwelling was finally constructed. Its interior, exterior, and immediate surrounding grounds were totally financed by then-undergraduate brothers, as well as DU alumni. The building was and always has been the Delta Upsilon Fraternity House.

    • DU’s building may well have been created by DU, Beardsley was once the Engineering Building and Tarble was once Science Hall. Don’t even get started on the Tarbles. Call the buildings what you will, spaces can change in purpose. The house can still hold the memories even if it becomes a space that the whole campus can enjoy.

      • I think his point was that DU financed the house completely. You know, they paid for it with their own money? The stuff that people in our society use for the exchange of goods and services? The stuff that makes the world go round? Believe it or not, this money stuff actually means a lot to some people.

      • Sure, those buildings may have been built for those original purposes, but they were funded by the college–not a small group of students/alums. Allowing DU to exist but stripping them of their building is offensive. Unlike any other space on campus, this small group provides much of the funding for repairs, provides daily maintenance, weekly cleanups, etc. Overall, it has been maintained by the Brotherhood for nearly 100 years. The same certainly can’t be said of Beardsley or Old Tarble…

  5. I think this editorial brings up a lot of good points, and I’m really glad to see that the DG is helping facilitate and structure community discussion on this issue.

    One of the interesting points raised in this article is the tension between national organizations and Swarthmore’s greek organizations. I’ve never really understood is why one frat and now the new sorority are associated with national organizations. From the beginning, NYS/Theta have been responding to criticism by saying that a Swarthmore sorority wouldn’t be like sororities elsewhere – that it would be more open, inclusive, and well-behaved. And when we were having this discussion last year, most of the comments from the frats seemed to be along the same lines, emphasizing that Swarthmore frats were different from the stereotypical image of a frat that people were criticizing.

    If it’s true that Swarthmore greek life is so different from greek life at other schools, then what is the point of belonging to these national organizations? Why wouldn’t it be better to separate from them and run the sorority/frats in a manner more in keeping with the Swarthmore community spirit? For that matter, why keep the names “sorority” and “fraternity”, if our organizations are in reality so different from the negative associations that those words connote? I assume that there must be reasons for why things are the way they are, but I am unfamiliar with them. Can anyone from the sorority or the frats explain what the benefits of the status quo are?

    (I ask this honestly – I have respect for the intelligence of the leaders in these groups, and I know there must be aspects to the situation that I haven’t thought of.)

    • Phi Psi has not been nationally affiliated since 1963. The fraternity surrendered its charter because they were opposed to the racially discriminating policies of some of the chapters which were part of the Phi Kappa Psi national fraternity.


  6. What’s in a name – unaffiliated though I am, I can venture a few guesses at your questions. The national affiliation is clearly, at the bare minimum, an extremely useful networking tool. Telling a recruiter, a coworker, or a new acquaintance that you’re in a “club” is nowhere near as powerful as telling them you were in the same fraternity, with at least a base level of similar rituals, traditions, and beliefs. While frats at big Southern Universities may in fact have completely different cultures from Swat frats, the fact that their institutions exist across the country is an undeniable connection.

    Having said that, here’s my second guess: this nominal affiliation is all there is to the connection. Think back – when was the last time you saw/heard of a national fraternity representative on campus? From what I recall, on those less than annual occasions when “national guys” went to DU they were basically laughed off campus (reports from some friends of friends and matching everything I know about the Swat frats). This makes complete sense when you think about it – with a small, non-active chapter with no apparent desire to expand significantly (think 200-member frats at Ole Miss), I can’t imagine anyone really caring about what Swarthmore does. They pay their dues, get the network, and try to maybe separate themselves from the stereotype a little.

    But yeah, I’d agree with WIAN – I’d be interested to hear what some current Greek leaders have to say.

  7. For all of you guys/girls/everything in between who don’t understand fraternity life, I urge you to go to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of Total Frat Move: The Book! It’s a New York Times bestseller (really!) Here you’ll be able to read about some of the trials and tribulations of fraternity members in the American South, aka the birthplace of democracy and culture.

    -Steele “Chip” McTavisworth

  8. “If the goal of the referendum is more discussion, this is not the right one.”

    Holistically, I disagree that the referendum shuts off dialog. In a certain sense, the referendum is super scary to greek brothers and sisters on campus and makes it less likely that they’ll engage. More importantly, comment boards on your articles have numerous anecdotes about students failing to have these discussions because greek members won’t seriously engage. Before Thursday, I didn’t expect any greek organization to meaningfully engage unless their existence was called into question. This referendum shifts the terms of the discussion and threatens privilege. Good. Maybe now that everyone is paying attention, we can change the referendum, but I can’t imagine a better way to have gone about it originally.

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