Last semester, the campus voted in favor of a referendum that Greek organizations admit students of all genders. However, no action to enforce this proposal has been taken.
The movement began on February 14, when a group of students petitioned for a referendum on Greek life on campus. The propositions of the referendum included proposals to make fraternity houses substance free spaces, to disaffiliate from their national chapters and eliminate Greek life on campus entirely. However, only the proposal to admit students of all genders into fraternities passed.
Although the student body voted in favor of admitting students of all genders into Greek organizations, a referendum is not a binding motion and simply acts as a means for the administration to see what the community wants.
“Referendums are a mechanism utilized by Student Council to take the ‘temperature’ or to get feedback from the student body regarding a particular issue. They are not binding,” said Dean of Students Elizabeth Braun.
In addition, no action has been taken to enforce this referendum due to the lack of clarity about the wording of the proposal. The proposal, which read “Do you support admitting students of all genders to sororities and fraternities?” lead to confusion amongst the deans and the student body.
“The question itself was vaguely worded[…]Some people read it as do we allow people of all genders in our house during all social events, and some people read it as should the fraternities be co-ed,” said Yeab Wondimu ‘14, president of Delta Upsilon.
Although the referendum has not officially been enforced, it has inspired the fraternities to reform past policies.
“Phi Psi is currently holding rush events that have been published and distributed to the entire school,” said Zach Schaffer ’14, president of Phi Psi. “All students are welcome to attend to learn more about our organization and the current members.”
In addition, Delta Upsilon has collaborated with Phi Psi, Brennan Klein ’14 and Eve Dimagno ’15 to bring Jackson Katz, an educator, author, filmmaker and social theorist, to speak about sexual assault later this year.
“We’ll let anybody into our house,” said Wondimu. “Everybody’s welcome in our house regardless of gender. When it comes to letting people pledge of different genders that’s the international, they have their policies. For us to be associated with DU, we have to follow the policies.”
While it is unclear what actions will be taken in regards to the referendum , some students believe that the student body may demand more action.
“If students have the wherewithal to continue pushing against Greek life so be it, I can’t predict anything,” wrote Nora Kerrich ’14. “The administration is going to review Swarthmore’s drug and alcohol policy, which is inextricably linked to the wet spaces on campus, half of which are maintained by fraternities. “At this point that is where I see restrictions occurring, but those are not going to focus on Greek life as an institution, which is permitted to exist at Swarthmore, linked with the continued perpetuation of rape culture, racism, and classism,” she said. “If participants in Greek life want to distance themselves from those oppressive systems, they should reconsider their motivations for associating themselves with Greek life at all and actively seek out alternatives.”
Greek leader say the referendum has encouraged the Greek organizations on campus to re-examine their communication with other student groups.
“I felt like the lines of communication between us as a fraternity and other student groups on campus weren’t open and I think the referendum was a big wake up call. We have to put in effort to open up those lines of communication,” said Wondimu.
“In a way the referendum was productive for us. The campus discussions that happened all last semester were very eye-opening. I think it will help us make our house a more safe space,” said Matthew Bertuch ’14, social chair of DU.
CORRECTION: The first version of this article, which was printed, failed to note that Phi Psi, Eve Dimagno ’15 and Brennan Klein ’14 were involved with the effort to bring the educator Jackson Katz to campus. Katz will be speaking later this year.