As I approach the end of my second four years at Swarthmore, I am sad to be leaving such wonderful students and colleagues, but I am perhaps even more saddened by the deep flaws in my alma mater’s student culture highlighted by the revelations in the April 18 issue of The Phoenix. No one should be surprised by what we saw in those documents. We all know that this is what fraternities are, and that these are the things they have always done and will continue to do.
The real problem, however, is not hazing, but sexual assault, and these documents are equally important to that conversation. They show that the fraternities simply cannot be trusted. None of their claims to have put hazing and bigotry behind them hold water, as the members from 2013 would have undoubtedly said exactly the same. Similarly, the college should view with extreme skepticism the fraternities’ claims to be eliminating misogyny and creating safe party spaces, especially in the face of contradictory testimony from other, braver students.
I mean no hostility toward individual members of the fraternities or sororities; I typically don’t know which of my students are members, and I suspect that some of my top students have been among them. However, any organization electing to call itself a fraternity or sorority is endorsing historical baggage that from a 21st century viewpoint is almost exclusively negative. Fraternities and sororities have always existed primarily for the purpose of creating artificial in/out groups by excluding people. Their benefits accrue almost entirely to their already-privileged members, and their harms are felt by our most vulnerable students. I firmly believe that fraternities and sororities are antithetical to Swarthmore’s culture and mission, and therefore consider it imperative that the administration take action to remove them.
The changes that Swarthmore’s administration has implemented in response to O4S have been too small and too slow. Changes regarding Greek life seem to be hampered in part by an incorrect belief that the college would suffer financially from taking a stand against fraternities. I stopped donating to Swarthmore in 2013 in response to the decision to allow sororities. I told the alumni office that I would resume donating if and only if fraternities and sororities were banned from campus. My financial contributions were always a token amount, and since then I have given far more in time and effort than I ever could have in cash. However, I stand by my pledge and encourage other alumni of greater means, as well as new and soon-to-be alumni in greater numbers, to join me in pressuring the college to take the right stand.
I am leaving for a tenure-track job at another institution where I suspect that these problems are far more deeply ingrained, and I wonder: if Swarthmore cannot take the lead in standing up to fraternities and putting the needs of survivors first, how will American higher education ever change? With twenty years of hindsight, the college’s decision to drop football looks downright prescient. The time has come to do away with another tradition where the costs now outweigh the benefits. I hope Swarthmore can once more take the bold steps necessary to promote the well-being of all its students and ensure that its institutional values are reflected by the campus culture.
-Bryce Wiedenbeck ’08
Visiting Assistant Professor of Computer Science