When asked about the purpose of Psi phi, most of the presidents seemed to agree that aside from serving as a social sphere, the purpose of Psi Phi is to engage in shenanigans. The club hosts various events throughout the year with the most familiar being the ‘Dactyl Hunt, an event where students battle each other with foam swords to reclaim the Science Center quad from the evil ‘Dactyl and various monsters. The ‘Dactyl hunt this year was Game of Thrones-themed and had a record turnout, something that the organizer, Andrew Taylor ‘16, and other presidents hope indicate a larger trend with increasing campus involvement with Psi Phi’s events.
Psi Phi, a club that attracts students interested in science-fiction and fantasy, originated from another group, the Swarthmore Wardens of Imaginative Literature, commonly known as SWIL. SWIL, founded in 1978, morphed into Psi Phi because the members wanted to distance themselves from the exclusionary image SWIL had cultivated over the years. The group meets in Sharples room five on Saturdays for dinner to discuss upcoming events, but is primarily a social group and so often the remainder of the meetings comprise of eating and catching up with those present. Over recent years Psi Phi has attracted many new students, with the number of active members ranging from thirty to forty, where in the past there was normally only a small group of about fifteen. With the increase in attendance, the private dining room in Sharples is becoming too small for Psi Phi to hold their meetings, something the current presidents,Julia Chartove ‘14, Riley Collins ‘16, and Andrew Taylor ’16, are looking to solve . There is some talk about procuring a larger dedicated space for Psi Phi on campus, but currently the members are making due with the limited space.
The goal of Psi Phi, according to the presidents and members, is to increase campus involvement in their events. SWIL was viewed as an insular club that was unwelcoming to nonmembers, which is a reputation Psi Phi members hope to stay clear avoid. Bradley Carter ‘15 said, “Psi Phi is a good [sic], and we hope that we can continue to integrate it with the larger campus community.” Carter went on to say that though it can be fun to hang out with a small, consistent community, having more campus involvement allows the group to plan larger and more exciting events. Ultimately, the members hope to provide a safe community for anyone that wishes to be involved regardless of interest in science-fiction and fantasy, and as most members have attested, the mutual interest in science fiction and fantasy is what brought them to Psi Phi, but not what keeps them there.
The members of Psi Phi are adamantly in favor of inclusivity and as such have adopted idiosyncratic rules surrounding membership. Psi Phi asserts that students that don’t attend meetings are members and those that do are non-members, which makes it difficult to write about the group in any meaningful way. When a student decides to attend meetings and become more involved within the group, they are dis-membered and after graduation they are re-membered.
Taylor said, “We’re looking to make things as confusing as possible for no reason. Nothing is official ever, so we have no policies, only longstanding in-jokes.” The leadership of Psi Phi is even more convoluted, with multiple presidents that operate in a nonhierarchical manner and serve as representatives of entities.
Though the Hunt is Psi Phi’s most well-known event, the club also hosts other events such as Falpurgisnacht and Walpurgisnacht, events where students spend the night sharing songs and stories which fit each event’s theme. Falpurgisnacht is held around Halloween and the theme is generally pagan rituals, while Walpurgisnacht is towards the end of April and has a horror, fertility, and trees theme. Walpurgisnacht is Carter’s favorite Psi Phi-affiliated event. An unfinished story Carter found on a public library computer titled Wolves: Tracks of Two, described by Chartove as “absolutely terrible” has become a Walpurgisnacht favorite. Psi Phi is currently planning a LARP (Live Action Role-Playing game) for the spring semester, but the club also offers smaller, weekly events such as campaigns of Dungeons & Dragons, a tabletop role-playing game. The club regularly hosts screenings of various television shows including Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Legend of Korra, and are planning on screening Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Anime Club, which is affiliated with Psi Phi, also holds screenings of animated movies and shows.
With the club’s growth in the past two years it’s unlikely that Psi Phi will return to its unwelcoming past. The club plans to continue in their quest for ‘epic shenanigans’ and to plan fun events for the campus community. With increased involvement they hope to be able to organize bigger and more elaborate events in the future. but regardless of Psi Phi’s size, there will always be a space on campus for those interested in geekier pursuits.