Students Talk Referendum [VIDEO]

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.

What do you think about the Greek life referendum? from The Daily Gazette on Vimeo.

Hear what your classmates are saying about the resurgent call for a referendum on Greek life.

Video: Monika Zaleska/The Daily Gazette


  1. Did something happen in the past eight months since I graduated from Swarthmore that Greek life now “dominates” the party scene? I probably set foot in the frat houses a total of four to six times during my four years at Swat. I did not attend Greek-hosted parties because, put simply, I did not enjoy them. I went to Paces or Old Club, I watched a movie in Kohlberg, or I stayed in. Perhaps I am not analyzing the greater social repercussions of Greek life on campus but in my experience, I barely felt its presence.

    I call on you to enlighten me, forum, because in my time (eight months ago!), it was very easy to avoid Greek life altogether. Don’t like the frats? Don’t go. The school neither funds the two houses nor does it fund their parties. Banning them because their presence upsets you is not a good enough reason.

    As I have read in the comments, sexual assault and alcohol abuse are famed to be the kinds of wanton behavior Greek life is said to produce. However, sexual assault and alcohol abuse happen all over campus; at Paces, in dorm rooms, during Krunk Fest…do I have to go on? So, what is this motion against exactly? The fraternities or party life? If safety is the highest concern, why not mandate faculty chaperones, cap alcohol consumption, and assign a curfew for all social events? Or better yet, why not petition the administration to handle these issues more competently instead of scapegoating the frats?

    Is it the sexism, elitism, or classicism that shadows Greek Life that is causing such anxiety then? Pardon me, the frats are not the only exclusive, sexist, or privileged spaces at Swat. *cough Sports teams *cough

    Feeling “uncomfortable” is not and never will be enough to tell a group of people “no, we don’t want you.” By that reasoning, Genderfuck and Halloween should have been referendum’ed long ago as those were often the two most uncomfortable nights of the year for myself and many other people. Like the frats, neither of those two events require obligatory participation. Totally unlike the frats, however, Genderfuck and Halloween actually “dominate” party life if only for those two nights.

    I need evidence, a better explanation, and proof that the frats are 1.) actually dominating party life and 2.) are a detriment to campus life over all other groups and events. Anecdotes and tired stereotypes are not enough.

    • So (un)fortunately people aren’t feeling “discomfort” in the frats. They are being violently assaulted. They are having slurs shouted at them. Stop making false parallels.

      • I never said no one has no basis to feel uncomfortable in the frats. I am saying I am confused about this debate and that to dismantle a group because of “discomfort” is not enough EVIDENCE. Plain and simple: I want EVIDENCE. Not vague assumptions about the group nor do I want hearsay. I want an ample file collected of stories, violations, etc to prove why the fraternities have historically and systematically made Swarthmore unsafe or else we risk forming a witch hunt with very little to be gained. I think a referendum is a great way to open the dialogue but there’s been a lot of unbacked mudslinging and exaggeration on both sides of this debate and find that disconcerting.

        There are ass holes in every group. As both a survivor and a former member of many groups, all sorts of ugliness goes down in spaces all over campus. I was violated by a non-brother in a non-frat space. Other people may have been violated by brothers in a frat-space. i do not think turning spiteful against the frats and then dismantling them will make Swarthmore safer, I do not think it will make anyone more comfortable, and I do not think it will solve the larger problem of administrative response to abuses, or rather their lack of.

        I do think it is awfully unfair, though, to disproportionately shift all blame onto the frats because it’s easier to. That because they happen to be all male-spaces, it’s easier to say “yes, violence takes place there” when in fact, it takes place all over. Furthermore, other exclusionary groups that are supposed to provide “safe spaces” also abuse their privileges to make members feel persecuted or unwelcomed. And yes, to even be predatory. THAT IS MY ISSUE.

        If the frats are to be pursued like this, I would want to see evidence instead of embarking on a witch hunt. Furthermore, I would ask that other group conduct be checked, regardless if they are social, cultural, political groups I DON’T CARE.

      • read closer. never said I am asking for one but why do the two events with the most documented cases of hospitalizations for intoxication and sexual assault fly under the radar?

        • That would be silly for me as I am 1.) graduated and 2.) I always had the option of not attending. 3.) Other students like this event. 4.) If so many want it banished for all other students, then they have the power to make it happen. It is not my personal prerogative. It was, however, an example of, “hey, this thing produces behavior you think merit the closing of the frats. What’s up with that?”

    • “The school neither funds the two houses nor does it fund their parties.”

      This is not entirely true — while the school does not fund the houses (and, indeed, actually generates revenue from the rent paid by the two frats), the frats do make extremely liberal use of SAC funding, to the tune of about $400/weekend. That was more than a quarter — maybe even a third — of SAC funding to *all* events happening in a weekend, every weekend. If such a sizable chunk of supposedly student-accessible funding is going to just two groups on campus, and those two groups are fraught with the cultural problems that everyone has been discussing all over the DG, then the problem becomes much more than just “ignore the frats.”

      • Gotcha. Can’t a limit be imposed? Can people boycott the frats if they feel unsafe? Can their be a ceiling of funds offered to any one group during the course of a semester.

      • The fraternities do not apply for SAC funding for every weekend — only a handful of times each semester, for major parties.

      • I had a close friend who was an executive in one of the frats last year, SAC gave them roughly $1000 for the semester, I question the basis of your $400/weekend estimate

  2. While I don’t want to get very involved, 20 seconds wasn’t enough for me (I’m the male wearing the sweater that looks like it is a bunch of towels sown together).

    I want to clarify the context of my bit and give a few more thoughts that couldn’t make it into the video. Also, I don’t think that this is a great forum to talk about these issues. I’m perfectly happy to get a meal or go on a walk if you want to contact me.

    First, I started my interview by saying that even though I have close relationships and respect many fraternity brothers, I’m still in favor of the referendum.

    In addition to supporting my friends who don’t feel safe in in greek spaces for a variety of reasons, my main objections to greek life are institutional and not personal. I don’t think that greek life has or can move beyond its cultural legacy. I’m most concerned in the ways that fraternities perpetuate rape culture. To clarify, wikipedia defines rape culture as “a concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.” I believe that American society fits this description, and that Swarthmore college does not transcend it either.

    I am not arguing that if we abolish greek life, our campus will be safe. Instead, I believe that it would be safer. I feel this way because I see how all-male spaces that I am a part of perpetuate this culture. While all male spaces could perhaps transcend this with a ton of work, it’s really hard. In my experience, organizations that are primarily social are more likely to perpetuate this problem because of the way that power operates in groups.

    Finally, I don’t think that cultural change is feasible in this situation. While I know that many brothers are deeply concerned about these issues right now, I worry that their commitment won’t carry on after the current brothers graduate.

    • Hi Ben,

      I appreciate your thoughts and I agree with the majority of your points. Yes, all male-spaces can lend themselves to bad behavior much more so than other groups. All I ask for is compiled evidence for why their presence is more negative than it is positive in the community, which I think is why this referendum could be very good.

      The arguments from what I have heard have been divided in many different directions. A lot of them have come down to sexual assault and exclusion to “I just don’t like them and I think it’s stupid.” While I think the former should definitely be investigated in depth, the latter is not a good enough reason to dismantle a group. As I stated above me, I want EVIDENCE. That is all. During my time there, I did not find the fraternities presence to be more iscomforting than many other groups. For me, I really could ignore them and disassociate altogether. Perhaps that is not true for others and I want to hear them. If that is the case, I want them compiled and legitimized by other points (IE public safety records of alcohol poisoning and sexual assault.) Otherwise, I’m hard pressed to be convinced that eradicating fraternities would even make Swarthmore “safer.” Hence, again, why I think the referendum is good. I am merely trying to understand the arguments.

      I think it is interesting that this entire debate has exploded because of the formation of a sorority–an all-female space. My question is, why does it take the formation of the Greek life on campus’ female counterpart to evoke so much antipathy from the rest of the community? No, that is not the sexism card I’m playing. It’s just, in my time there, the frats were such an ignored topic of conversation and now they are deemed to be dominating social life with terrible consequences. I want to know if something has changed or if something has been hidden this whole time without band wagoning against ir without proper due process.

  3. Hi all,

    I would like to clarify that this video clip is a misrepresentation of my views on the issue at hand and that it was taken out of the context of what I actually said. Anyone who has spoken to me will find that my views on the Greek question go more along the lines of opening dialogue and solving the problems associated with Greek life and the Swarthmore campus as a whole. In fact, I even chose to sign the petition to have a referendum for the sake of opening real dialogue between students instead of the incessant bickering that has ensued for months. If you have any questions, please contact me at

    Rossana Estrada, 2015

    • Hey Rossana,

      Sorry you feel that way. You’re right. A short video doesn’t always leave time for nuances. I’d like to clarify that Rossana said she was for a dialogue about the referendum, but not for “this referendum” and a ban on Greek life, and was speaking about the limitations of that conversation.

      Again, I apologize that you felt misrepresented!

      Monika Zaleska
      Multimedia Editor

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