Last week, both The Phoenix and Voices published articles documenting histories of racist, sexist, and homophobic practices within Phi Psi during 2013 and 2014, along with documents describing their pledging process, all from leaked internal documents. Since then, Swat alums — both former fraternity members and not — have spoken out against the continued existence of the college’s fraternities. Students have protested at a Task Force meeting, Andrew Barclay’s office, and Nathan Miller’s office. Petitions have circulated amongst students and alumni. Still, the fraternities are not (at least superficially) the central part of campus life — fewer than 10% of the student body are fraternity members, and Swat has no reputation for being a “fratty” school.
But the actions of the frats have an impact on more than just the brothers, or the sports teams, or the regular partygoers. The actions of the frats affect all of us on campus, because the frats have different resources than other student groups on campus, altering the power they have over the Swarthmore social scene. Unlike other groups, frats have guaranteed party spaces in the form of the fraternity houses, which they lease from the college. Unlike other groups, frats can charge dues, providing guaranteed funds for alcohol. Unlike other student groups, frats have a bedroom in their party spaces that members alone control. These spaces and abilities were referenced throughout the leaked documents.
And they are able to host parties despite frequent violations of college policies over time. In the last two years, Phi Psi has been shut down for a full year and on probation for another; D.U. was on probation for several months. In 2013, the college’s fraternity advisor, Tom Elverson, a former D.U. brother, left amid a scandal concerning the mishandling of sexual assault allegations against fraternity members. In 2018, former Dean of Students Liz Braun resigned following protests of her mishandling of allegations as well.
Whether or not you go to frat parties, the fraternities’ presence on campus changes the social context in which Swatties exist. On a given weekend, fraternities are often the only open party space, so the behavior and values of the fraternity matters even more. For students who go to fraternity events, the culture of the fraternity impacts their immediate experience. The culture of a fraternity also determines who feels comfortable in the space, and thus who feels comfortable attending what are often the only open parties. Fraternities have power over social spaces, so their attitudes and actions reverberate not only through party culture, but through campus culture writ large.