Swarthmore’s Fraternities Disbanded After Student Uproar. Protesters Say They’re Staying Put.
Students staged a sit-in amid outrage over documents that referred to a frat’s ‘rape attic.’ Protesters say their battle isn’t over until the frats are ‘permanently dissolved.’
After dozens of fellow students stormed their houses in protest of what the student newspaper described as a “cult of misogyny,” Swarthmore College’s fraternities voted to voluntarily disband and vacate their houses Tuesday. But the protesters say they’re not going anywhere.
“We want [the school] to formally confirm that there will be a process in place for next year to reallocate the houses,” said Daria Mateescu, one of the protesters who slept in front of the Phi Psi fraternity for four days. “We want an agreement that [the fraternities] will be permanently dissolved.”
She added, “We want permanent measures to prevent us from ever having to do something like this again.”
The protests started Saturday, after two student newspapers published internal Phi Psi documents dating from 2010 to 2016. The documents contained a litany of misogynistic, racist and homophobic language, including one reference to a “rape attic” in the Delta Upsilon fraternity house. Photos and videos show fraternity members groping and kissing women who may not have known they were being recorded, according to the publications.
Fraternity meeting minutes obtained from the 2013-2014 school year start with the declaration that there is “nothing better than basement takedowns and tiny Asian chicks getting pummeled with full sheet cakes.” The minutes also document brothers demanding to see “black nips” and discussing starting a “milf sex trafficking ring.”
Students flooded the Phi Psi houses in protest after the documents were published, demanding the school permanently dissolve the Greek system. Phi Psi, which is not affiliated with the national Phi Kappa Psi organization, responded by saying that most of the leaked documents predated their current members’ arrival on campus. Protesters claimed the leak simply confirmed a dangerous culture that students had been protesting for years. A Tumblr blog started by one of the protesters in April contains dozens of allegations of sexual assault and harassment at both fraternities from 2015 until this year.
On Tuesday night, it appeared the protesters had gotten their wish. Delta Upsilon posted on Facebook saying they had “unanimously decided that disbanding our fraternity is in the best interest of the Swarthmore community.” Phi Psi followed up with a similar post two hours later.
“We were appalled and disgusted by the content of these minutes, which led us to question our affiliation with an organization whose former members could write such heinous statements,” the fraternity said. “We cannot in good conscience be members of an organization with such a painful history.”
The administration, however, announced no decision of their own. President Valerie Smith sent out a message early Wednesday morning acknowledging the fraternities’ choice, but added that the school had “no evidence that any current student participated in the behaviors documented in those materials.”
The president also condemned what she called “unsubstantiated attacks” on individual students and “gross generalizations” about student groups—a criticism Mateescu felt was directed toward the protesters. (A school spokesperson said the comment was in reference to individual students “from across the spectrum of the student body.”)
“We were deeply disturbed and quite frankly felt betrayed by President Smith’s email last night, which was even less sympathetic to our point of view than fraternity members have been,” she said, adding: “Even [the fraternities] finally made the right decision when our president did not.”
Mateescu also pointed to group photos that Phi Psi leadership posted on Instagram Tuesday night—screenshots of which she provided to The Daily Beast. The posts feature captions like “Live Ever Die Never” and “You can take the boys out of phi but...YOU CAN’T TAKE THE PHI OUT OF THE BOYS.”
Mateescu said her group wants the administration to formally dissolve the fraternities so they cannot go underground or decide to re-emerge in the coming years.
A school spokesperson said the administration will not issue a decision until a Greek life task force that the president convened last fall meets on Friday. In a message to students, Smith said she will communicate her final decision with the community “as quickly as I can.” She also said the administration is committed to fully investigating any allegations of sexual misconduct and has hired an external investigator to examine the fraternity documents.
The activists believe the school is trying to delay making any decisions until students leave for summer break, to avoid further demonstrations. But by staying put, the activists say they hope to force the administration’s hand.
“Survivors have poured their hearts out for years,” Maya Henry, one of the protesters, told The Daily Beast. “Activists have raised these issues for years. It’s been said already. Please make decision so no one gets hurt.”