Greek Life is Antithetical to Swarthmore’s Quaker Values

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

5 comments

  1. 6
    daf says:

    While I believe sororities do have their problems, it is unfair bring up the one sorority on Swarthmore’s campus in reference to the acts committed by Phi Psi members and supported by fraternity culture in general. The sorority at Swarthmore, to my knowledge, does not host functions with alcohol nor does it hold a physical space. This organization exists for women to safely connect with other women and to engage in service and philanthropy, not to host parties and the like. Additionally, sororities are not nearly, if at all, the perpetuators of rape culture that fraternities are. I think this post, while good in some ways, is unfairly critical of sororities at a time when the focus should really be on fraternities, their leases, and their awful behavior and beliefs. There may be issues with sororities, but given that members of this sorority surely have been affected by the sexism and misogyny of Phi Psi, this feels somewhat distracting and unsupportive of those who identify as women.

  2. 3
    Brick-Hands Bryce says:

    “Creating safe party spaces, especially in the face of contradictory testimony from other, braver students.”

    Give me a break, man. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to publicly stand up for the fraternities? The amount of courage that would take? You would receive hateful comments indefinitely, and in your case, have groups of students bothering you nonstop at office hours. They would ask for your forced resignation (sounds like you’re leaving anyway, but this is one of their go-to moves). They would publicly question your morals, posting and sharing things all over the internet. You’d have articles written about you in the school newspaper. It’s outrageous to argue that those arguing for the fraternities’ removal are braver than brothers defending their reputations. If you are referring specifically to survivors, you should have made that more clear, I’m interpreting your “braver students” as “students who are vocal about their desire to have frats banned from Swarthmore”.

    As a former brother, I think many of those like me share this concern: if I come out in support of the fraternities (something I would love to do), a hookup from years ago could come out of the woodwork as a sexual assault allegation against me. This is a real concern. I want to defend the organization I hold dear, but I’m unwilling to open up a chance that my entire life is sent into a downward spiral over it. Don’t act like it doesn’t take courage to defend the fraternities in this current climate.

    “Fraternities and sororities have always existed primarily for the purpose of creating artificial in/out groups by excluding people”

    Also a joke. Every party aside from two annual formals have always been open to campus. Rushing/pledging is open to campus. You admitted it yourself, you don’t know which of your students are involved. I bet you’d be shocked to find who some of them are. Socially inept. Diverse background. Progressive beliefs. Wrong again, Bryce.

    And regarding the suggestion of cutting off donations to Swarthmore until the fraternities have been removed: there is an opposite pressure to balance that, at least to some degree. It’s a bad spot for Swarthmore, because I, a former brother, would feel much less connected to campus upon the removal of my fraternity, and my donations checks will stop coming in. And not to toot our own horn, but fraternity alumni have been hugely generous to Swarthmore. Half of the buildings on campus are in their names (maybe someone should write a new half-asked article about changing these names!). There will be a drop in donations to the college either way.

  3. 3
    Phoebe Cook '15 says:

    Thank you for writing this. A group of recent alumni, including myself, have written a formal pledge not to contribute to Swarthmore until the College terminates the fraternity leases. You can read it and sign it if you wish to at tinyurl.com/nodonationpledge. So far 400 alumni, parents, and other friends of the College have signed. We welcome others to join us in lending our support to current students and making campus safer for future generations.

    The alumni signatures thus far are members of class years spanning more than four decades, many of them previously recurring donors or planned givers. If you know other donors, please consider sharing the pledge with them and speaking to them about how their support will help. Answers to common questions we have received can be found at tinyurl.com/pledgeFAQ, which may be helpful in your conversations.

    Anyone with further questions is welcome to reach out to me or the email mentioned in the pledge itself.

    Phoebe Cook ’15
    phoebe.a.cook@gmail.com

  4. 2
    Tiny Maxwell says:

    I think you’re right that Swarthmore and Greek life are incompatible. However, I think the decision to drop football wasn’t of the same magnitude nor as warranted. I personally think having football at the institution during my time would have made my college experience much better.

  5. 1
    Bill Robinson ‘60 says:

    “We all know that this is what fraternities are, and that these are the things they have always done and will continue to do.”

    This is how Bryce Wiedenbeck starts his op ed piece? Then he goes on to spout other complaints he has about fraternities, like their exclusiveness. If he was informed, he’d know that DU is happy to welcome any student who expresses an interest in joining (with scholarship assistance for fees).

    He goes on with other boldly stated assumptions with no support regarding the athletics decision. He, like some other O4S supporters, is also quick to withdraw his support for the College. Persoanlly, I have not withdrawn my support for the College over the last almost 60 years. Being a first generation college student who graduated from Swarthmore with no debt, I will not withdraw my suppport over any issue.

    While I admire passion, I wish less discussion on this subject was based on assumptions about the past, present, or future. I read all the O4S material on their site, and it strikes more as a polemic than a reasoned discussion and recommendation.

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