Last week, many Swarthmore students received emails asking them to join the anonymous app, Looped. The emails specifically referenced discourse about the party scene at Swarthmore. At the same time, many anonymous posts were submitted to the comments section of one of our news articles about the current party scene, some of which used hateful language that was in flagrant violation of our comment policy. While we at The Phoenix encourage students to engage with campus issues, we are deeply troubled by the hateful tenor of many of these anonymous comments, both on Looped and in our comment submissions. These commenters exploited their anonymity to express racist, misogynist, ableist, and otherwise prejudiced ideas, and to target specific student groups.
In light of the flood of anonymous comments, The Phoenix has updated our comment policy to require that all commenters use a real email address when posting. Comments that use a fake email address will not be approved. We also strongly encourage commenters to use their real names. Email addresses are only visible to the comment moderator and not to the public. Your email will not be used by us for any reason other than moderation, and people will still be able to reach us anonymously through our feedback form and can contact us privately through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anonymity itself is not the problem. It can be used for good, especially for people from marginalized groups who do not have space or safety to express their views openly. Especially in this past week, however, anonymity has been utilized by commenters to propagate hateful language. When someone is anonymous, they are not accountable for their words. As is immediately evident by opening any anonymous comment section on the internet, people often adopt hurtful and dehumanizing language under the veil of anonymity. This is not even the first time we’ve encountered this issue at Swarthmore: YikYak, a now-defunct anonymous platform that preceded Looped, was rife with hate speech and threats on campuses across the country, Swarthmore included.
We would also like to address that many of the anonymous commenters across platforms ignore that the frats were more than just space where free beer and a dance floor were provided. While commenters have the right to their own views, we would be remiss as a news publication to not provide the relevant context to this campus conversation. As we reported last April, the internal Phi Psi documents leaked to The Phoenix show that Phi Psi had cultivated a culture of toxic masculinity, misogyny, classism, racism, and homophobia. Minutes from Delta Upsilon showed a similar culture. Further, the semester-long Task Force on Student Social Events and Community Standards noted that “[p]atterns of serious misconduct surrounding fraternities are extremely disturbing, and though the fraternities have faced numerous disciplinary actions over the years, significant problems have persisted.”
Our party scene and campus life need work, but bringing back institutions with an extensive history of policy violations and a documented culture of racism, homophobia, and misogyny is not going to improve them. Conversations that ignore the full context of this troubling history are reductive and harmful. Rather, we should reflect on ways in which we as a community can improve and provide a safer, more welcoming, and more fulfilling party scene for all students on campus. We urge students to have these important conversations about the future of the party scene through open, sincere dialogue, rather than behind the guise of anonymity.