Petition for Referendum on Greek Life Sparks Discussion

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When a petition calling for a referendum on the existence of Greek life was posted last Thursday, the future of Phi Psi, Delta Upsilon, and Kappa Alpha Theta became the basis of discussion across campus. The petition needed signatures from at least 10 percent of the student body in order to call for a referendum. Although as of 9:05 p.m. on Feb. 20 the petition has received 188 signatures, well over the requirement, a Student Council meeting this past Monday clarified that a referendum will not occur in the immediate future.

“It was decided that the referendum would not be officially proposed at this time until after a facilitated campus dialogue,” StuCo Co-President Victor Brady ’13 said. “StuCo has offered its support in the creation and organization of such a constructive dialogue.”

Student Council’s Elections Committee must organize any student-proposed referendum, and once a person or a student group officially submits a referendum to StuCo, the committee must hold the election within two weeks.

Joyce Wu ’15, who started the petition after The Phoenix published a staff editorial that called for the referendum, mainly attributed this sudden action to Theta’s recent creation. While for her the ideal outcome would be abolishing Swarthmore’s Greek life altogether, the goal was to start a discussion.

“I want to make it very clear that there is a divide between my personal goals and the goal of the petition I started,” she said.  “I personally have an investment in seeing Greek life gone from the campus, but far more important right now is opening up dialogue about Greek life and the influence it has on campus. If after that dialogue we have a referendum and it doesn’t go the way I want it to go, I would be fine with that as long as we have a productive discussion.”

Wu, who has encountered polarized attitudes on both sides in the past week, feels that Greek life has an overall negative effect on campus and promotes excessive drinking.  She also believes that the fraternities also cause discomfort for non-Greek students.

“Drinking culture is not about individual people,” she said.  “It’s about the effect it has on a group.  I think that the culture of doing it within this fraternity space and with your fraternity brothers makes the drinking sort of ritualized and less casual than it is just among friends.”

Some students who have no affiliation with Greek life disagreed that the fraternities and new sorority negatively impact Swarthmore’s social scene.

“Greek life is something that worried me when I arrived as a freshman on campus,” Elyse Tierney ’15 said.  “As a queer-identifying female, I felt like the frats had the potential to be at the very least an uncomfortable place for me to be.  Luckily, I happened to meet some of the boys from the frats, and they convinced me to attend some of their parties, where I felt welcomed and eventually comfortable.”

Tierney added that the fraternities have never caused her discomfort and that she believes their benefits outweigh the negatives.

Although Wu admits that she has little knowledge about the opposing perspectives and about Greek life in general, she feels that this gives even more reason for a dialogue that includes all sides. All Greek life representatives, as well as Dean of Students Liz Braun, declined to comment until further discussion occurs.

“The silence on the part of Greek organizations is troubling to me, because I’ve heard them express the desire on a DG article earlier this semester for non-anonymous conversation about alcohol culture at the frats, and now they don’t seem to be engaging in that,” Wu said.  “So that’s concerning to me.  I would not be comfortable with the referendum going on if there were no conversations preceding it.”

To alleviate this concern, Wu plans to organize at least one moderated discussion in the coming weeks, which she hopes will include deans, people in favor of the referendum, and members of the fraternities and sorority.  She has already been in contact with First-Year Dean and Gender Education Advisor Karen Henry, Junior Dean and Director of the Black Cultural Center Karlene Burrell-McRae, and Sophomore Dean and Director of the Intercultural Center Alina Wong about holding this discussion.

Wu intends to form a planning committee that will meet for the next few weeks to discuss the kind of forums that might be most effective. She will be hosting the first of these meetings in Kohlberg 334 tonight at 8:30; all students are welcome.

*Joyce Wu is the Chief Copy Editor for The Phoenix. She played no role in the production of this article.

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