TW: sexual assault, sexual violence
Last weekend was the first Saturday after dry week, the date that used to feature the infamous Disorientation party at one of the campus’s two now-disbanded fraternities. For many current and former Swarthmore students, DisO was their first introduction to Swarthmore’s party culture. For some, the end of this tradition was a cause for celebration. But while many students felt uncomfortable or unsafe attending fraternity-hosted parties, for other students, Saturday nights that would once have been spent at Phi Psi and DU are now open. For them, the first weekend left a question mark: what happens now?
Last spring, after reports of policy violations and a multi-day sit-in, both of Swarthmore’s fraternities disbanded. The removal of the fraternities was an essential step in reducing sexual violence on campus. However, even as the Swarthmore social scene shifts away from the fraternities, problems may continue to arise. The first four months of college, from August to November, are commonly referred to as the “red zone” for sexual assault. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 50% of sexual assaults on campus take place between August and November. First-year students, likely to have less experience with alcohol and drugs and fewer friends on campus, are particularly vulnerable. Getting rid of the fraternities was not a panacea for ending violence in party spaces, and as a community, we need to continue to have conversations about creating safe social spaces.
Recently, parties have been shifting from on-campus spaces, like Olde Club, to off-campus spaces, a trend that could increase due to the frats disbanding. Off-campus spaces do not need to be monitored by SwatTeam members, nor are they limited in the amount or type of alcohol that can be served. These parties can also expose students to encounters with the local police. Police officers have broader mandates than Public Safety officers, and are frequently required to engage in formal reporting processes even in situations where Pub Safe would not be. Police officers, unlike Pub Safe, are frequently armed and their processes are often less transparent and more punitive, particularly for students.
The locations of on-campus parties have also shifted. A decrease in public, on-campus parties encourages an increase in private parties, including parties in the NPPR Apartments. Unlike parties thrown in public, on-campus spaces, these parties are not required to be open to all students, nor do they have SwatTeam present. Even authorized closed parties with alcohol permits are monitored significantly less than open parties are. Additionally, small, invite-only parties can be dangerous. Upwards of 75% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim, according to RAINN. While this statistic includes acquaintances, and not just close friends, and so for a campus as small as Swarthmore can be somewhat misleading, it points to a clear pattern within sexual assault. Small, intimate gatherings create an atmosphere of perceived safety that can then be leveraged by perpetrators.
Parties with alcohol also require significant financial resources on the part of the hosts. For a few semesters in 2016-17, NuWave served as an alternative party hosting organization, funded primarily by alumni donors who hoped to provide a party space separate from the fraternities (non-coincidentally, the organization was at its most popular during the period when both fraternities had been shut down due to policy violations). This model, however, proved unsustainable — NuWave has since disbanded. Pub Nite has seen a similar trend, with attendance declining throughout the past year and alcohol funding constrained to donations by students and alums. The need to self-fund alcohol creates a clear class dimension to party access and party hosting, one which allowed fraternities (the only on-campus organizations that were allowed to charge dues) to dominate the on-campus party scene. While Swarthmore is trying to counteract this with efforts such as the Parrish Parlor parties, which offer students $200 to host dry parties in Parrish Parlors, more efforts need to be made to make party hosting accessible and equitable for students.
Ultimately, there are more questions than answers when it comes to considering what a post-frat Swarthmore looks like. Swarthmore has stopped funding alcohol, has not revealed what its intentions are regarding the allocation of the two former fraternity spaces, and, as recent Pub Safe reports suggest, is getting more serious about enforcing drug and alcohol regulations. This, coupled with the fact that students are going to find a way to drink, do drugs, and party no matter the circumstances, means that our community has a lot of work to do in order to realize what partying will look like in the 2019-2020 school year and beyond.
[Editor’s note: The 9/12 editorial was edited by the Editorial Board on 9/16 to better reflect our position and remove potentially triggering content. We thank members of campus for their grace and kindness in giving us feedback.]