The relationship between greek life and athletics at Swarthmore

Swarthmore students that engage in Greek life on campus come from a wide variety of backgrounds, each with their own academic and extracurricular endeavors. Swarthmore Greek members are anything but a monolith, despite the negative attention that Greek organizations have received on a national scale. While Greek organizations may consume the lives of students at other schools, here at the college, they simply complement the ongoing educational experience of each student individually. In some ways, then, it is surprising that the fraternities at Swarthmore have a long-standing history with specific sports teams on campus. However, in other ways, the teamwork and similar skills developed on a sports team directly and logically translate to the brotherhood of fraternity life. Thus, the relationships between these sports teams and Greek organizations on campus speak to the philosophies and character of those same Greek organizations.

Since its inception at the college in 1894, Delta Upsilon has held close ties to various sports teams on campus, more specifically the football team before its disbandment in 2002, and now, the baseball and golf teams. Before this, however, the baseball team actually tended to join Phi Psi, including four famous former MLB players. It is worth noting that, particularly in the early 20th century, Swarthmore had a far more prominent Greek influence on campus, with more options for potential members to choose between. By the early 1990s, the number of fraternities had been reduced to just two, Delta Upsilon, and Phi Psi. Thus, athletes and regular students have fewer Greek organizations to choose from today.

After the baseball team’s migration to Delta Upsilon following the disbandment of the football team, the lacrosse team began to make up more and more of Phi Psi’s constituency. This trend continued so much so that now Phi Psi is commonly associated with the men’s lacrosse team, although it also includes many members of the men’s rugby and golf teams. Although Kappa Alpha Theta, the recently established sorority on campus, also has many athletes and members of different interests, their athletic-participating members come from a variety of sports teams, particularly the softball, basketball, and swim teams, among others. That being said, it is important to keep in mind that female identifying students only have one sorority to choose from, while male identifying students can pick between Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon.

On the other hand, not all members of the teams choose to participate in the fraternity and the fraternities do consist of members from a variety of interests, not necessarily just sports. It is by no means a hindrance to decline to join a fraternity, nor is it a requirement for fraternity members to be athletes.

“I think the amount of varsity athletes in the fraternity is largely overstated.” said Dimitri Kondelis ‘20, a DU brother, who is not participating in NCAA athletics at Swarthmore.

Max Kassan ‘18, a baseball player and Delta Upsilon brother, noted that his roommates for his final year consisted of a mix of DU brothers, baseball players, and any combination of the two, representing the wide community that members of DU represent.

Delta Upsilon highlights four main pillars in its education of members, two of which are particularly pertinent to athletics as well: the development of character and the promotion of friendship. The comradery built on the baseball and golf teams carries over to fraternity meetings and the converse as well, thereby strengthening the bonds and relationships between members.

“I actually wasn’t planning on joining DU when I got to Swarthmore. Coming into college, I had a negative perception as to what fraternities were … the more time I spent with my teammates, the more I began to realize that DU was not at all what I envisioned a college fraternity would be,” Kassan said.

Kassan pointed out a particularly poignant anecdote when multiple members of the baseball team that were also in DU helped him with the tough academic transition to Swarthmore.

“DU has helped me bolster my friendships with the DU members, but it hasn’t limited me in any way.” Kassan emphasized.

Delta Upsilon accepts any student who shows interest during their rush period. One example of this is DU’s large presence of international students, adding to the cultural perspectives and exposure of its members. In this way, both the athletes and other members take great pride in their relationship, as it not only builds the individual, but the greater community as well.

Members of the baseball and golf teams not affiliated with the fraternity also enjoy its presence and influence on campus.

“Sometimes I may be out of the loop on a couple jokes, but beyond that I don’t feel a division [in the baseball team]” said Frank Sammartino ‘20, a pitcher for the baseball team who frequents DU events despite not actually being a member himself.

He would go on to explain that he did not ever formally join the fraternity because of “the time commitment” and that “…[he] would be friends with the guys regardless.”

DU brothers that do not play for the baseball team shared the same sentiment.

“As a non-baseball brother, I have found that DU is about half non-baseball, half baseball. It certainly has positively affected my experience in DU by introducing me to a great group of guys that I would not have known otherwise.” said Kondelis.

In the same way, Phi Psi’s strong relationship with the men’s lacrosse team also builds the strong sense of character and dignity within both groups’ members. The fraternity’s basic foundational tenets highlight “integrity, intellect, and community involvement,” all of which closely align with member’s opinions on the benefits of Greek life. To this end, Phi Psi actually first relinquished their charter to the international parent organization, Phi Kappa Psi, after becoming one of the first Phi Kappa Psi chapters to accept African-American and Jewish members in the early 1960s. The fraternity operates as Phi Psi, a local chapter now.

One member and lacrosse player, Zander Levitz ‘20, emphatically backed Phi Psi in an interview.

“I joined Phi Psi for many reasons, but one that stood out to me when I was deciding was the network. At such a small school … the network is more closely knit and everyone wants to help out.” said Levitz.

Levitz also emphasized the willingness of alumni, both former lacrosse players and not, to help out in professional and post-college life. Additionally, Levitz expressed his desire to change the stigma of being a member of a fraternity on campus.

“Being a part of Phi [Psi] has made me more aware of how I conduct myself on campus… we hope our recent positive actions on campus galvanize more interest in joining!” said Levitz.

To Levitz’s point, the fraternities build this awareness and respect in their members. Swarthmore fraternities maintain a non-secret and non-residential status — except for one brother from each fraternity a year — as a result, fraternity life is not as all-encompassing as it is at many bigger schools. To this end, these fraternities not only provide resources to students in their academic, professional, and personal lives, but also teach intangible skills, like teamwork, leadership, respect, and responsibility.

The athletic and Greek communities continue to work closely here at the college. Swarthmore Greek life, although small in comparison to the student body, shows a striking overlap in demographics with the athletic community as well. Nevertheless, both fraternities have made it clear that varsity athletics are not a prerequisite to join a fraternity, and hope to work for the betterment of the social scene at Swarthmore, creating equitable and fun environments for years to come.  

Adam Schauer

Adam is Swarthmore Baseball's 2017-2018 runner-up in saves and a sports writer for the Phoenix. A lifelong sports nut from the nation's capital, Adam channels all of his anger of the Nationals failing to win a single playoff series into motivation to write for The Phoenix. He hopes that his readers do not feel the same reading his articles as he does every MLB postseason: disappointed.

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