The Frat Leak Matters — Even If You Don’t Go to Frat Parties

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.


  1. Ok, here is a question – why don’t I, a male, feel comfortable spending time in the WRC? Does this mean that something is inherently wrong with that space? Does it need to change to allow everyone to feel comfortable there? Or be removed entirely? Is it an exception because this is a marginalized group? Does banning an organization whose members no longer have that circle of friendship/trust make it’s members, in a way, marginalized? The culture of the gender binary determines who feels comfortable in that space – is this ok? What is so different vs. not feeling comfortable at a fraternity house? After all, the WRC is open to anyone, but only a portion of campus feels comfortable there. And brothers genuinely want people to feel comfortable in their house, whether you believe that or not – buying into this culture of abuse towards others that you all like to talk about is your own prerogative.

    (I’m sorry if I am in anyway misinformed about the WRC’s operations. I am willing to admit that I have only been in there a handful of times to make edibles with the workers there, since they have an oven. I recognize my limited knowledge of this space, and will admit it, unlike the Phoenix editorial board and their blatant lack of knowledge regarding the fraternities)

    On the topic of the controlled space – what differentiates a “party space” from a space? Could a party be thrown in the WRC? (As far as I know, yes) And why is it the fraternities’ fault that they are the only ones who throw parties every week? People complain about not having open parties outside of the fraternities, but they don’t host open parties outside of the fraternities. Will the current brothers simply move their parties to more public spaces on campus? (Yes) Is it unique that a group on campus has their own space? (No) Is there a competing group that is willing to pay the lease currently paid by the fraternities? Wow, would that be a good way to force out the fraternities… Does the college charge other groups with a designated space for their space? (As far as I know, no)

    What makes funds for alcohol “guaranteed”? Reworded, what would make them “unguaranteed”? Presumably other groups have “unguaranteed” social funds? This seems like an very empty comment… Do they have funds, they just aren’t sure if they can access them?

    On the topic of dues – what is keeping other groups from charging dues in order to build funds for their organization? What am I missing, what makes this unique to fraternities? If other organizations decided to charge dues, would their unguaranteed funds for alcohol be guaranteed?

    This is a useless article from the editorial board. Nothing here has not already been said in the 10 or so fraternity-related articles published over the past week or so. The questions and issues posed are not unique to fraternities, and clearly haven’t been vetted very far, as there is no real logic or message. More of an empty suggestion: “Trust us, even if you don’t interact with the fraternities and have no opinion, everything will be better without them!” I’d grade this paper as an F for lack of content (C+ relative to other Phoenix pieces).

    • I am a WRC associate. My comments are mine alone, and do not represent the WRC or Swarthmore College. There is a lot to unpack here, so I will start with the first of your many questions. No, the fact that you do not feel comfortable in the WRC as a man does not indicate something inherently wrong with the WRC. Moving on, as of right now, you can’t throw parties in the WRC. It’s also hard to throw parties consistently as a student group when you don’t have the funds because you don’t collect dues. Non-Greek organizations can’t collect dues because it is against college policy.

      Common sense allows me to infer that what you actually mean to ask with this entire comment is “Why are the frats getting all this flak while the WRC (which has ‘women’ in the name, so it isn’t about me) doesn’t?” I can’t speak for everyone, but I would say that a huge part of it is that (at least one of) the frats have a documented archive of derogatory and offensive language and behavior (not to mention the terrible experiences that people have had outside of that egregious document). Further, instead of taking any semblance of responsibility for the harm that members of their organization caused (or even acknowledging that while they may not engage in atrocious behavior personally, there are members of the frat who do and no a venmo penalty system isn’t a legitimate deterrent), the frats’ leadership deflected accountability. I think a little bit more critical thinking would have made that apparent.

  2. Can someone explain how frats are the only group on campus that can collect money for alcohol? What’s stopping any other student group from pitching in for parties? You’re right though, let’s shut them down and open up two more party spaces to add to the 7+ party spaces that go unused each weekend.

  3. Nobody:
    The Phoenix: Did you SEE our coverage on the frats??? Even if it doesn’t matter to you, it does!!! We’re important!!!

  4. Could you please elaborate on the current rules and regulations prohibiting other student groups from charging dues for social events?

    1) It’s quite illogical to say that fraternities wield unfair power over the social scene because they are funded from dues when nothing prevents other groups from charging dues to fund their own social events. In reality, the end of “DJ funding” from SAC perpetrated the massive reduction in social events on campus. This was a top-down decision aimed at reducing the administration’s liability arising from alcohol-related incidents. ALL student groups suffered from this decision.

    2) Other student groups, especially club teams, charge dues. Sure, the majority of the funds may be allocated to spring break or training trips, but it would be remiss to assume the money isn’t spent on social events and alcohol (gasp) as well.

  5. Just making a point wrote:
    “Why don’t I, a male, feel comfortable spending time in the WRC? […] What is so different vs. not feeling comfortable at a fraternity house?”

    As an action movie fan, I feel uncomfortable when my girlfriend drags me to go see romantic comedies. But I’m not afraid of getting raped when I go see one.

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