A group of protesters who have identified themselves as the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence is in its fifth day of occupying the Phi Psi fraternity house at Swarthmore College. The group rallied into action over the weekend, with as many as 100 people staging a sit-in following the leak of highly offensive and potentially damning documents that were originally shared on Phi Psi listservs between 2010 and 2016. Many media outlets have noted the mention of a “rape attic” in the documents, which fraternity brothers had referenced braggingly, as well as the purchase of date rape drugs.
Swarthmore College is a small, elite liberal arts college located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It is home to two fraternity houses as well as one sorority. The protesters are calling upon campus administrators to close down the fraternity houses, having known of Phi Psi’s rape attic for years. (The sorority does not have a house on campus and reportedly does not host parties.) One protestor who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a Phi Psi brother told the New York Times that she had alerted campus administrators of her concerns regarding the fraternity house over a dozen times, to no avail.
Released over the weekend by an anonymous source, the documents were drafted like “minutes,” redacted of anything that could identify Phi Psi brothers. The sexist, racist, and homophobic contents appeared to validate the protesters’ concerns that the Phi Psi fraternity house, as a part of campus life, was a breeding ground for toxic male behavior that was putting students and non-students at risk for harassment and assault. At best, the documents were a cesspool of toxic masculinity; at worst, a flippant admission of actual crimes that were committed by Phi Psi brothers on campus. There’s no evidence in the minutes, though, to support any of its claims.
"Earlier tonight, we learned separately from both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon fraternities that they each decided to disband and relinquish their houses. We respect these students’ decision to take this action." – President Valerie Smith. https://t.co/6KXtnTSXYE
— Swarthmore College (@swarthmore) May 1, 2019
None of the current Phi Psi brothers were implicated in the minutes, according to a statement released by the 59 members. “We unequivocally condemn and reject the obscene and hurtful remarks made in these documents. We are thankful for the extensive discussion and exceptional dialogue between the Swarthmore Administration and other student groups that has led to a transformation of the fraternity in recent years.”
The brothers expressed a commitment to inclusion and accountability. According to the Swarthmore Phoenix, the Phi Psi house disaffiliated from its national chapter Phi Kappa Psi during the civil rights movement so that it could admit a Black member into the fraternity. Not that that absolves future members from perpetuating racism. In any case, this incident at Swarthmore is just one part of a greater conversation around Greek Life and campus culture.
Swarthmore President Valerie Smith issued a letter yesterday to her students denouncing the Phi Psi documents and describing how the administration plans to move forward. “Any decisions that affect the entire College community must be made deliberatively, consistently, and in ways that reflect the values of our community,” wrote Smith. In October, the college formed the Task Force for Student Social Events and Community Standards in order to take stock of the school’s on-campus fraternities. “I plan to honor the deeply consultative and thoughtful work of the task force, which at my request has undertaken a holistic review of social life and the role of Greek life specifically.”
The task force plans to issue their recommendations this coming Friday. Until then, the protesters will remain encamped at the Phi Psi house.