Editorial Note: Our Process on the Phi Psi Coverage

RECEIVING THE FILES

Last week, members of The Phoenix and Voices were sent an unsolicited set of Phi Psi’s internal documents from past years. The folder included documents detailing pledge tasks for members who were initiated in 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2016, as well as documents labeled “minutes” that were dated from 2013 to early 2014. The files we received ranged from photos and videos of members completing the pledge tasks listed in the documents to minutes containing sexist, racist, and ableist comments. Members of The Phoenix and Voices staffs worked separately in writing their respective articles but made the agreement to redact and publish the same documents and photos from the folder and to publish their respective stories at the same time.

EDITORIAL DECISIONS

After receiving these documents, seven members of The Phoenix Editorial Board — the Editor-in-Chief, the Managing Editors, News Editors, and two Editors Emeriti — made the decision to publish two stories and to redact and publish the documents we felt were the most consequential. Some photos and videos were not published in order to protect the identities of the individuals in them.

The Editor-in-Chief recused herself from the writing, redacting, editing, and publishing of the documents and final stories due to personal reasons. Phi Psi leadership was informed of the upcoming publication of the documents and stories on April 15, 2019. Later that day, the current Phi Psi president stepped down from his position as Sports Editor at The Phoenix.

Current Managing and News Editors and Editors Emeriti collaborated to report on, redact, write, edit and publish two stories about the documents: one story about Phi Psi’s pledge tasks and the college’s policies on hazing, and one story about Phi Psi’s public image and rhetoric during and after the Spring of 2013, when the minutes were written and disseminated. NOTE [4/18/19 6:02 p.m.]: We would also like to thank former Phoenix Editor-in-Chief Lauren Knudson for her edits.

AUTHENTICITY

In order to determine the authenticity of the documents, both managing editors and news editors made contact with five members of Phi Psi who were present in 2013 and 2014, the majority of whom corroborated the authenticity of the files. Additionally, many photos and videos contained in the set of files identify members of the fraternity. The files’ metadata also corroborate their authenticity with details such as the creators of the documents and the dates that they were created. At no point did any member of the Phi Psi fraternity, student or alumni, dispute with The Phoenix the validity of these documents.

REDACTION

We decided to redact the documents in order to legally protect ourselves and to protect the privacy of individuals. When redacting the documents, photos, and videos in the folder, we removed all information that would publicly identify any individuals. The process involved the following steps: copying and pasting all minutes into separate documents, redaction of names and identifying characteristics, screenshotting the documents, and consolidating the screenshots into one PDF. As a result of this process, the document appears fuzzy and may be difficult to read. It is also not presently text-searchable. We apologize to those who may be unable to access the materials as a result. Should you require an alternate format, please email any of the attributed reporters.

REPORTING FOR STORIES

When writing the story dealing with the documents labeled “minutes,” our reporting lead to many phone calls, emails, and texts to former Phi Psi members as well as a deep dive into The Phoenix’s archives from years past to recount Phi Psi’s public narratives at the time when the “minutes” were produced. In order to contextualize the reporting for our story on Phi Psi’s pledging process, we contacted administration about the college’s policies on hazing and referred to the college’s recent Bi-Annual Hazing Report.

LOOKING FORWARD

In an email addressed to students in December 2018, President Smith announced that the Task Force on Student Social Events and Community Standards would be creating a report on that would “critically examine critically examine social life on campus — including Greek life and programming in campus social spaces.” The task force has collected feedback from the college community in the past few months and will include recommendations for President Smith. The task force aims to deliver these recommendations by the end of April.


If readers are interested in responding to the publication of Phi Psi’s internal documents or The Phoenix’s stories about the documents, they can submit an op-ed or letter to editor@swarthmorephoenix.com.

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