How do you spend your Saturday nights? Here at Swarthmore, the most consistent events to attend on the weekends are fraternity parties. Because Delta Upsilon was closed until March 23 of the 2018-2019 academic year, Phi-Psi-hosted extravaganzas have been some of the most attended campus-wide Greek parties. At the beginning of the Fall semester, I spent most of my weekends chaperoning my peers to their rooms from these parties.
Why, might you ask? Predatory behavior, “permissive” sexualization and sexual violence, and pervasive queerphobia. I can’t directly speak to the dynamics that students of color face at fraternities because of my white identity; it is true, however, that most frats are predominately white, male spaces, with a history of homogeneity.
As a queer Swarthmore student, the actions and inactions of our Greek life powerhouses, especially Phi Psi, are particularly important to my life and experience here. While some may be privy to suggest that the “tradition” of Greek life is somehow imperative to the functionality of a higher education institution, I completely disagree. Historically, fraternities have aided in discrimination regarding sexual orientation, gender, and race, as well as been proprietors of sexual violence. On campus, there is a definite split between those who defend or critique Greek life. My own experiences and positionality have led me to support the ending of our frats’ leases.
Phi Psi is a sight to behold on Thursdays and Saturdays, our designated “party nights”. In all corners of the house, students of all class-years are either dancing through the stench of spilled Natty Light, in the process of getting drunk and sharing spit in the corner, or reveling in their sobriety as they watch their peers make fools of themselves between 10 p.m. and the witching hour. I was the latter. Overhead sits an eerie balcony with the eyes of seemingly inebriated men gazing down, almost as if they are choosing their next target. On the dance floor, fraternity brothers are speckled through the crowd, offering their barely-carbonated tonic to womxn. Downstairs, pool tables and beer taps are suffocated by the bodies of drunk-on-life partygoers.
Historically, fraternities have been created by predominantly rich, white students in order to isolate themselves from their “lesser” peers, as well as rip power from the administration in the form of ubiquitous and, quite frankly, barbaric behaviors. Fraternities yield a mindset of sexual entitlement. There is a sort of implied permission for men, regardless if they are members of the frat, to behave hypersexually at frat parties, which puts womxn at risk of sexual assault or violence. The presence of alcohol along with fraternity pressure to binge drink does not help in the prevention of vulnerability-based violence.
I recall hearing an interview late last year after perusing fraternity scandals, such as the one at Baylor University, on “For the Record.” Here, Scott Ellman, a past fraternity member at Wesleyan, discussed his frat experience. He describes, with obvious discomfort:
“It was some sort of official fraternity event. And the event had finished. We were hanging out in big couches. There was a whiteboard around. And someone casually, without thinking, got up and walked over to a whiteboard and just started writing down names of girls on campus and connecting girls through brothers in the fraternity, starting to make a web, like a hook-up chart, basically. And people started adding, you know, throwing in names. And the web expanded. And it happened so suddenly and so casually and matter-of-factly.”
After a year in his fraternity, Ellman ultimately left because of uncomfortable situations, such as the one mentioned above. I don’t blame him, though, hypersexualization within frat culture is definitely concerning. Because fraternities are predominantly male spaces, sexual aggression — forced sexual activity through the use of force, drugs, authority, etc. — at frat parties is highly pertinent. Considering that brothers have this “home-field advantage,” they likely expect to have sex by the end of the night. So why not be bold? Unbalanced gender dynamics like these remain the most problematic and terrifying fraternity trait.
While womxn and people of color are particularly vulnerable, queer folx, too, are victimized within and outside the fraternity space. With homoerotic hazing rituals as well as discrimination-based slurs and violence, LGBTQ+ individuals stand unwelcome and unprotected in frat-spaces. Take, for example, the fraternity trope of “proving” a brother’s worth by ensuring he is not gay, often achieved by making out with other initiates to watching gay porn nude in front of fraternity leaders. LGBTQ+ individuals have been debased to the status of mere jokes within predominantly hetero-cis fraternity culture. Although I am unsure if Swarthmore fraternities practice such extreme hazing, it is clear that homoeroticism is ingrained in fraternity initiation. Considering that this type of fraternity hazing is trying to prove that initiates are not gay, it’s quite the living contradiction.
Where does that leave the Swarthmore community? In the same situation as almost every other college: a state of social crisis. Personally, I stake fraternities as the main perpetrators of these vile behaviors. Sunday, March 31, marked the day when a Phi Psi brother’s highly questionable comments on a post showcasing fraternity donation initiatives sparked rage among marginalized groups, specifically LGBTQ+ individuals and womxn.
With continued initiative, some students have established anonymous submission forms on a Tumblr Tumblog for people who have experienced or observed acts of discrimination and violence conducted by fraternity members or within the fraternity space. Some of the submissions include, but are not limited to, discussions regarding actions of sexual violence, homophobia, and racism and use of derogatory terms within our fraternity spaces. If you feel as though you have seen or been victim to something relating to the frats, I implore you to check out the resources on the Tumblog.
Considering Swarthmore’s ideology of inclusion and acceptance, as well as common sense, the outrage is definitely justified. With countless homophobic and racist actions and jarringly disrespectful comments, such as fraternity ‘bros’ systematically blocking their queer peers on social media and making rape “jokes” offline and online, it’s apparent that frats need to go. The current state of our fraternities epitomizes monopolization of social space — free beer, owned venues, party-hosting structures, and outside funding are not something students who oppose the fraternities can compete with. Furthermore, fraternities are not something we can reform and rekindle. Marginalization, discrimination, racism, and misogyny are ingrained in Greek life culture: we can’t fix something that is fundamentally broken.
Thus, I believe that all fraternities — even the frats here at Swarthmore — should have their leases terminated.