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.
It’s been quite strange to be abroad during what I am sure is a time of heated discussion and debate. I wish that I could be there in Sharples with you all, hearing all of the sides of the argument … but unfortunately, I am instead sitting in the library at the University of St Andrews in Scotland—an institution which, incidentally, has an amazing party scene despite its lack of frat houses or frat culture.
As I wade through the masses of coverage about the referendum issue, I’ve noticed that there seems to be something of a pattern emerging within the comments section.
COMMENTER A: “I have had _______ bad experience in/related to the fraternities.”
COMMENTER B: “I’m sorry that this happened to you. But what does it have to do with Greek life?”
COMMENTER C: “Why are you holding the frats responsible for the actions of a single individual? Surely we would still have irresponsible individuals even if we did away with the institution of the fraternities.”
These comments are hard for me to read, because they ignore the fact that the fraternities as institutions do work to cover up, to silence, and to reinforce bad behaviors perpetrated by individual members.
This is not an accusation that I make lightly. I say this based on personal experience, which I will relate here. Before you call me out for making this inappropriately personal, or for turning to an Op-Ed rather than an official channel: when this happened, it was reported to the Deans. I met with Dean Karen Henry as well as speaking with Public Safety and the Swarthmore Police. The communication between me, the Deans, and DU was active, albeit unsatisfying.
As a freshman, I was asked to the DU formal by a DU pledge who I did not know beforehand (let’s call him Mr. DU). Even though I didn’t know Mr. DU, I knew several other DU brothers and pledges and thought them all to be great people. I had gone to DU and enjoyed it. Basically, it sounded like a great idea. Mr. DU and I got a Sharples meal together, and got to know each other as people a little more so that the formal wouldn’t be too awkward.
But on the day of the formal, I woke up and realized that I was dreading going to the formal. I had a lot on my plate academically as well as emotionally, and to top it off I was getting sick—not exactly a party mood! When I texted Mr. DU to say that I was sorry I couldn’t make it, he said that he was coming to find me because we “needed to talk.” I told him that I didn’t want to talk to him—but somehow, he found his way into my dormitory.
In our confrontation in the lounge, he yelled at me, lectured me, and menaced me. It was frightening, and I did not want to be a part of it or let someone treat me that way. He was out of control and very angry. I essentially ran away from the confrontation and hid in a friend’s closet. My hallmates commendably stood up to him, kept asking him to leave, kept an eye on him, and when he remained belligerent called Public Safety. Public Safety ultimately had to call the Swarthmore police in order to get the situation under control—which is the nice way of saying that the police physically had to remove Mr. DU from the building and tell him that if he came back he would be arrested. (He was seen stalking around the dorm later that day, but when he was recognized he left before the police could be called.) No one was hurt physically, and I am still in awe of the hallmates who were so willing to help protect me.
So, to sum up: scary situation, police involvement, but ultimately just a close call. I know many stories that are much worse than mine, and although I am loathe to say that I am “lucky” to have had this encounter (as opposed to a more violent one) I recognize that this is far from the worst thing that could have happened.
So why am I so upset? Because of how I was treated by DU brothers afterwards.
In the days and weeks after this confrontation, every DU brother I knew came to me to “talk about what had happened.” In reality, they were checking to make sure that I wasn’t going to be too vocal about the fact that Mr. DU—who they had chosen to initiate on the same day that the police forcibly removed him from my residence—had behaved in a less-than-admirable fashion. It was not subtle. One of them asked directly, “So, you’re not like, planning on making this into some big thing, are you?” The conversations were all alike, and the brothers sometimes even used identical phrasing as they talked to me. These were not concerned friends. These were PR representatives in damage control mode, and their biggest concern was making sure that I stayed quiet.
Genuinely, I am not upset about what happened with Mr. DU. At the time it was scary, and it was definitely weird, but it did not get under my skin. What upsets me was the coordinated and sleazy fashion in which DU organized its brothers to seek me out, to encourage me not to “make a fuss,” and to defend the newly-initiated Mr. DU rather than to denounce his behavior. When faced with an individual’s inappropriate behavior, these “brothers” banded together in his support rather than speaking up to say that his actions were inappropriate. I was told by every one of these brothers that Mr. DU was “a great guy,” and not one of them acknowledged that what he did was wrong. The striking similarities between all these conversations suggest that they were coordinated by the fraternity, rather than individual efforts by those who sought me out.
In other words: because other “brothers” came to Mr. DU’s defense, the unacceptable behavior of one individual was ultimately condoned by the institution of DU as a whole. It is this kind of behavior—coordination, coercion, silencing—that has led me to be disgusted by the presence of fraternities on our campus for the past two years. I still have friends who are frat brothers (both DU and Phi Psi) and as individuals I admire them all. It is the behavior of these institutions as a whole that I find unacceptable, and it is for this reason that I feel that the referendum is necessary.
Op-Ed submitted by Marian Firke ’14