Swarthmore Students Occupy Frat House
May 1, 2019 9:07 PM   Subscribe

Swarthmore Students Occupy Frat House After Documents Leak With Reference to “Rape Attic” Students at Swarthmore College, a private liberal arts school in Pennsylvania, have occupied a fraternity house on campus after leaked documents allegedly recounted multiple instances of sexual assault by past members. The student protesters have succeeded in getting the fraternity suspended from campus, but they plan to remain at the house until the university shuts down the fraternity altogether.
The controversy began after students started a blog on Tumblr to share their own stories as victims of sexual violence and other harmful behavior at the two fraternities on campus. Students wrote of being sexually assaulted and of being victims of homophobic slurs and other offensive language.
There's a deeper look into the students occupying the frat over at buzzfeed.
The Phi Psi fraternity house at Swarthmore College was usually a hotbed for alcohol-fueled parties — after which fraternity members would brag about their drunken sexual exploits with women in the basement, according to leaked internal documents that revealed a culture of misogyny, anti-gay behavior, and racism at the frat.

Since April 27, however, there has been no sign of the fraternity brothers — including one member who resides in the bedroom upstairs — at Phi Psi’s house, located on the campus of the private liberal arts college in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and known for its "margaritaville" weekends and paint parties.

Instead, the house has hosted parties of a different kind, including one for a campus magazine that publishes the work of marginalized students, and a concert for a student’s album about revolution and speaking truth to power.

And the fraternity’s basement — where a Phi Psi member once bragged about another member “pounding pussy” — recently hosted a student meeting about solar panel installations on campus.

Dozens of Swarthmore students — organized under the name Coalition to End Fraternity Violence — occupied Phi Psi’s on-campus house over the weekend, a tactic to urge the university to permanently disband Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, the only two remaining fraternities recognized by the school.

On Tuesday, they were successful: Both fraternities announced they were disbanding, leading to resounding cheers from dozens of students who slept, ate, studied, and worked to end fraternity culture at Phi Psi’s “dank” house.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (43 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
There must be a minuscule number of students at these fraternities, relative to the campus as a whole. Campus accommodation has always been a highly prized resource at every university I'm familiar with, but they apparently secured a private lease of college property. How did these groups get such a cosy arrangement?
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:39 PM on May 1 [6 favorites]


Joe in Australia: for n=1, the fraternities and sororities at the university I attended had secured such a lease many years before the numbers of students wanting // needing to live on campus ramped up to its current number.
posted by isauteikisa at 11:50 PM on May 1 [14 favorites]


There is presumably no way to prevent a bunch of students from renting an off-campus house, living there, and calling themselves a fraternity (or for that matter, a commune), but there doesn't seem to be much reason for colleges or universities to have any official relationship with them. Fraternities seem to be magnets for antisocial behavior and sexual predation. (Perversely, sororities don't seem to have the same sordid reputation, but despite this, many universities have glaringly obvious double standards, holding them to far stricter sets of rules, often declining to rent houses to them, etc.)

How any university administrator can look at this situation and not see a ticking liability time bomb is beyond me.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:27 AM on May 2 [17 favorites]


Fraternities seem to be magnets for antisocial behavior and sexual predation.

Magnets and incubators.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:18 AM on May 2 [42 favorites]


How any university administrator can look at this situation and not see a ticking liability time bomb is beyond me.

Always follow the money. Maybe fear of losing donations from a few rich fraternity alumni outweighs the fear of legal trouble from allowing frat houses.
posted by pracowity at 2:25 AM on May 2 [20 favorites]


Oh, one of them is a Delta Upsilon chapter? As we used to say, “You can’t spell ‘drunk’ without ‘DU.’”
posted by wenestvedt at 3:13 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Delta Oops-ilon, as in "oops, I joined the wrong fraternity".

On the topic of sororities, they don't have incidents like this because they consistently hold themselves to higher standards, starting at the very top, and they're aggressive about enforcing them. Some (most?) are the products of what we would consider outdated gender roles, but they generally work well in terms of promoting a safe, respectful space. Fraternities could do the same (and there are isolated examples), but in general, they're afraid of alienating potential members because membership is already declining. But the model is there.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:45 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Sororities were banned from the Swarthmore campus for 80 years after a 1933 protest against their antisemitic policies. They finally got allowed back again a few years ago, but there's only one on campus and it (obviously) hasn't been around that long.
posted by kyrademon at 4:08 AM on May 2 [10 favorites]


Just in case you missed it (since it was buried at the bottom of the post): As of Tuesday, both Swarthmore fraternities had voted to disband.

I'm a Swarthmore alumnus (class of '01). I'm also a nerdy white male, so I basically steered clear of the frats after a party or two during my first year, and my primary interaction with them after that was driving drunk students home on Friday & Saturday nights. Even without reading the documents, I wouldn't have been sorry to see them go. Obviously, other students got a lot worse from the frats than I ever did, and given the documents that were leaked [TW: the sort of thing you'd expect, really], I'm actively glad they're going to be gone.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:28 AM on May 2 [7 favorites]


I feel like the punishment for having a ‘rape attic’ should be ‘jail’ rather than ‘having to live off campus’.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:33 AM on May 2 [90 favorites]


I was frankly surprised that Swarthmore had any fraternities before this. But glad to see the student body as a whole acting to get them shut down.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 4:50 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


And this is the often #1 ranked liberal arts college in the United States (this year, #3, tied with my own alma mater). Perhaps not anymore.
posted by wellred at 5:23 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


My fuzzy recollection of some of the history of Greek letter organizations on U.S. college and university campuses is that faculty and administrators wanted to have some involvement and oversight to try to provide some "adult supervision" over these organizations. We can - and should - discuss the extent to which you can actually do that but that's one of the broad, prevailing justifications for ongoing official recognition and support.

In my opinion, other commenters are correct that money plays a *huge* role in this given (at least the perception) that these students, over their lifetimes, donate a lot more money to the institution than many other students. A further complication is the number of administrators and faculty who themselves were members of these organizations and thus have an inherent bias.
posted by ElKevbo at 5:39 AM on May 2 [5 favorites]


His thoughts were red thoughts: "I feel like the punishment for having a ‘rape attic’ should be ‘jail’ rather than ‘having to live off campus’."

I think a criminal investigation would make total sense, both of alums who were in the frat when the accusation was made, and currently, as there's likely a systemic problem, so past offenses indicate a high likelihood of new, current offenses. But sending you to jail because of an accusation levied at your organization years before you joined it? That seems pretty wrong.
posted by Bugbread at 5:42 AM on May 2


Also, I found the linked article somewhat confusing -- it read to me as saying that the Phi Psi documents included references to Phi Psi having a "rape attic" and a "rape tunnel", but it was actually an accusation of Delta Upsilon having a "rape attic" and a "rape tunnel". It makes it a bit more clear why the students were protesting that both frats should be shut down.
posted by Bugbread at 6:09 AM on May 2


Props to the students who occupied the frats and got them shut down. Collective action gets the goods.
posted by entropone at 6:11 AM on May 2 [22 favorites]


And this is the often #1 ranked liberal arts college in the United States

Well it would appear they're in good company. Smdh.
posted by peakes at 6:21 AM on May 2


Fraternity culture kills. There's no excuse.
posted by wellred at 6:25 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


I've known some really nice frat kids for whom it was a positive and non-predatory experience, and obviously not all fraternities are terrible to the level of having rape attics and rape tunnels. But from my perspective the negatives far outweigh the positives and they could all be shut down without any great loss.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:37 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


There is presumably no way to prevent a bunch of students from renting an off-campus house, living there, and calling themselves a fraternity (or for that matter, a commune)

Within pretty wide boundaries, a private school can just kick you out if you join an organization they don't like, or kiss a boy, or kiss a girl, or refuse to rub blue mud into your navel while singing the Catalina Magdalena Lupensteiner
Wallenbeiner song.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:39 AM on May 2 [3 favorites]


Sure, having gone to Wellesley I saw the ins and outs of the MIT fraternities, and there were definitely "nice" ones, and then others. Even the nice ones, though, had toxic drinking habits and lots of weird things going on. MIT's a high-stress place and you're going to find ways to blow off steam, but the fraternity culture made an environment at the time (20-25 years ago) that encouraged dangerous behaviour. I can't imagine it has changed that much.
posted by wellred at 6:41 AM on May 2 [1 favorite]


Well it would appear they're in good company. Smdh.

To save folks the click and add a little context: the frat in that link is DKE, which is what both HW and Dubya belonged to while at Yale. A total of five US presidents were members. They've been the top dog fraternity at Yale for generations.

In 2010, their freshmen initiation had pledges stand in the middle of freshman housing IN FRONT OF THE WOMEN'S CENTER AT YALE and chant about how "no means yes, and yes means anal" and how they fuck dead women. Since there was video of it on Youtube, Yale took the ~~ strong ~~ step of publicly asking for the national chapter to suspend the Yale chapter for five years, and when the national chapter demurred, Yale settled for kicking them off campus for five years.

You ask, what happened when DKE came back? Did they shape up? Did they stop raping, and start treating women like humans? Nope! Aside from a pervasive culture of sexual harassment and catcalling, the president of the fraternity at Yale was suspended for three semesters, but not expelled for what they termed "penetration without consent" in the very first year they were allowed back on campus. And nothing was done by Yale against the organization as a whole.

So no, Swarthmore isn't the only Ivy with a problem. I have a certain amount of hope that the campus culture and alumni at Swarthmore will let there be a lasting solution that hasn't been available at Yale because oh no, won't someone think of the donors who might stop donating, meaning that Yale might have to tap into an endowment that is currently about 30 billion with a b.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:56 AM on May 2 [24 favorites]


Here in Ontario, Canada frats are mostly not a thing. The University of Guelph where I went has never allowed frats on campus, they are barred from any official actions including recruiting anywhere on the grounds. There are a few off-campus but they are small and I never met anyone with any interest.
posted by PennD at 7:04 AM on May 2


I've known some really nice frat kids for whom it was a positive and non-predatory experience, and obviously not all fraternities are terrible to the level of having rape attics and rape tunnels. But from my perspective the negatives far outweigh the positives and they could all be shut down without any great loss.

I also had friends in various frats but it really is baffling how these rape and murder factories are allowed to not only exist but receive official support. When they're not sexually assaulting women they're killing each other in hazing rituals. It truly is bizarre.
posted by Sangermaine at 7:10 AM on May 2 [8 favorites]


The only good frats I ever knew about were the service-oriented, coed organizations. The rest were just places your parents paid a lot for so you could party, assault women and meet some dude who might help you be a Supreme Court Justice or at least get a cushy job at his dad's firm.

Sororities could be awesome, but were also extremely expensive and therefore not inclusive in any way. My chapter got shut down because we didn't recruit enough pledges and therefore weren't pulling in enough cash. Our chapter had been on that campus for 80 fucking years but no cash=fuck you.

The ones that thrived were hotbeds of eating disorders, participation with frats in parties where girls inevitably got assaulted, and, unstated, finding you a rich husband of Your Type. They talked a good game about "charity" and "sisterhood" but then you got a bill for hundreds of dollars every year for "fees" to the national org and if you couldn't pay, out you went.

Burn 'em all down.
posted by emjaybee at 7:32 AM on May 2 [14 favorites]


I feel like sororities sound awesome and fraternities sound like the mouth of hell, but I don’t know how you hold that line without being sued into oblivion.
posted by corb at 7:44 AM on May 2


Remember that very first hazing incident to get national coverage in 1978, the kid who was shut in the trunk of a car and told to drink? That was my alma mater, documented in Broken Pledges. (I was editor of the undergrad paper when the book came out, and got to smugly report on it.)

After a very similar incident in 2002, the university organized a task force and wrote a very thoughtful report on the state of fraternities in the US. They concluded that while they may have had their place after World War II, when men needed to bond a little more, they have devolved into nothing but a place to get free-ish alcohol. Then they announced that all social fraternities and sororities were banned, and it's been that way ever since.

(Sexual assault did not seem to be an issue when I was there. When the girl said no, the guy said no problem, because there was always another girl willing to say yes. I saw this many times.)
posted by Melismata at 7:56 AM on May 2


"they may have had their place after World War II"

FWIW, the historiography of fraternity hazing I've heard (from several sources) is that hazing really only became the problem it is now after WWII when returning veterans (the GI Bill gets a lot of blame) felt that younger students who hadn't served needed "toughening up" and were "needed to earn" the same comforts as those who'd seen combat.

Also, alcohol is most definitely not free for fraternity members. It's only "free" for party guests because members subsidize the cost.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:39 AM on May 2 [5 favorites]


There is presumably no way to prevent a bunch of students from renting an off-campus house, living there, and calling themselves a fraternity (or for that matter, a commune), but there doesn't seem to be much reason for colleges or universities to have any official relationship with them.

Frats create the old boy networks that shepherd dudes into positions of power from which they can often donate money back to the school. One hand washes the other here, which is why schools try to ignore this stuff as often as possible.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:40 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


“Fraternity” sounds like a euphemism for gang, used only when the members are on a track into the ruling class and thus entitled to deference.
posted by acb at 8:43 AM on May 2 [12 favorites]


Also, alcohol is most definitely not free for fraternity members.

But alcohol is freely available, which is pretty important in a country where states have to choose between banning alcohol to most fraternity age students or losing out on funding for their highways, right?
posted by ambrosen at 9:07 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


"alcohol is freely available"

This varies, of course, but as a general trend, much less freely available than at non-Greek off-campus parties.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:15 AM on May 2


Ugh I dunno I was trying to compose a thoughtful comment about my impression of the frats when I was at Swarthmore and how much we knew about what went on and how many people wanted them to go away but whatever, I'm just glad they're gone, good riddance!
posted by little cow make small moo at 9:28 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


I briefly worked at Swarthmore as an artist's model, and I'm super, super proud to see this. And totally unsurprised -- Swarthmore's a fairly special place. I loved being on campus; the buildings are stunning and I'm so glad that they're being seized by the community and used for good. (I faintly remember some of the students I worked with telling me about the two frats, but no real details other than that.)


So no, Swarthmore isn't the only Ivy with a problem. I have a certain amount of hope that the campus culture and alumni at Swarthmore will let there be a lasting solution that hasn't been available at Yale because oh no, won't someone think of the donors who might stop donating, meaning that Yale might have to tap into an endowment that is currently about 30 billion with a b.


Same hope here; I didn't work intensely enough to really have a strong opinion on actual administrative culture, but honestly I fully believe in the students effecting change. Also, frankly, Swarthmore has a lot of money and probably not a whole lot of fraternity-belonging donors.
posted by kalimac at 9:40 AM on May 2 [2 favorites]


There is presumably no way to prevent a bunch of students from renting an off-campus house, living there, and calling themselves a fraternity

Harvard has been facing this problem with their single-sex fraternities/sororities/finals clubs by barring them from sports and student organization leadership positions and refusing to recommend the students for Rhodes or Marshall scholarships.
posted by Jahaza at 10:06 AM on May 2 [12 favorites]


It would be great to see these organizations fade away at the University of California. They have lots of prime real estate in Berkeley and Los Angeles, and the pledges make the neighborhoods really ugly with their binge drinking and sexual assault/misogyny culture. While I was at Berkeley, one of the frats pulled a woman's pants down on the front lawn and all of them took turns biting her on the ass in broad daylight, which was not prosecuted. The other invaded Chabad House with their Nazi slogans and chants. No consequences, hollow apologies. Good riddance to you, assholes.
posted by effluvia at 10:49 AM on May 2 [4 favorites]


My experience with frat boys is that they all have some kind of rape attic. Half of the men in a frat are nice enough and will admit that their rape attic is kind of a gross joke and get embarrassed when people from the out-group hear about it; the other half are rapists. The non-rapists will get upset with you if you point this out.
posted by grandiloquiet at 11:59 AM on May 2 [15 favorites]



Sure, having gone to Wellesley I saw the ins and outs of the MIT fraternities, and there were definitely "nice" ones, and then others. Even the nice ones, though, had toxic drinking habits and lots of weird things going on. MIT's a high-stress place and you're going to find ways to blow off steam, but the fraternity culture made an environment at the time (20-25 years ago) that encouraged dangerous behaviour. I can't imagine it has changed that much.


MIT's Greek system was semi-jokingly divided into the First World (athletics, alcohol, misogyny), Second World, (want to graduate on time, no interest in self destructive nonsense) and Third World (artists, gays, poors). I'm an alum of a Third World fraternity. We were (and are) artsy. We had gay members back when fraternities could get shut down for it. And by maintaining a critical mass of members, we kept our house bill low. Lower than the equivalent rent for a dorm + meal plan.

And that's what makes me sad to see fraternities go. Unrelated young people have been pooling money together to set up houses since, oh, the 1200s. Today it's mostly by signing rental leases and finding roommates. In the 19th century it was possible to do it by buying a house out right, so many did, and thus the fraternity system was born. And buying has its advantages over renting, as always.

A fraternity chapter is a UNLIMITED liability corporation. Joining one means you're jointly and severally liable for what happens in it. That makes a fraternity a tremendous opportunity to take on adult responsibilities, including maintaining the physical condition of a house, making decisions with rules of order, corporate finances, and yes, looking out for peers who are doing things like drinking underage. It's a lot better for an MIT junior to sneak a mug of beer at a frat kegger than to drink alone with a hip flask. The latter was the big student killer at MIT in my day. But...

Because they started in the 19th century, fraternities came with the quasi-pseudo-semi-demi-Masonic song and dance. By the 50's it was already out of fashion, so the traditions involved got ridiculed and maintained simultaneously. Ridiculed with alcohol and hazing. As mentioned above,
that got worse with returning veterans after the war. And then everything that could make things worse, did. Schools got increasingly in-loco-parentis. At varying times, schools looked away at toxic developments because they could not afford to speed-build new dorms. National fraterntiy organizations got more involved at minimizing liability without minimizing risks, and so perverse incentives intensified. And now it's collapsing.
posted by ocschwar at 1:12 PM on May 2 [4 favorites]


I spent the last several years helping fund-raise to build a gorgeous new house for my old college fraternity. I was surprised the place didn't burn down when I lived there in the 80s, how it was still standing in the 2016 when we razed it is beyond me. Anyway the new house has a downstairs apartment for a full time live in responsible adult. Sororities mostly never got away from the full time house mom, and fraternities apparently are going back to it to help ensure nothing like this can happen. I was super impressed with the undergraduates I met at homecoming - a good group of responsible young men. I know Mefi is 98% all fraternities suck, but it was a great experience for me and I'm still close to many of the guys I lived with for 3 years.
posted by COD at 2:59 PM on May 2 [4 favorites]


(Sexual assault did not seem to be an issue when I was there. When the girl said no, the guy said no problem, because there was always another girl willing to say yes. I saw this many times.)

I would wager that in the history of the world, there has never been a time and place where sexual assault is/was not an issue.
posted by JenMarie at 4:23 PM on May 2 [12 favorites]


JenMarie: "I would wager that in the history of the world, there has never been a time and place where sexual assault is/was not an issue."

I thought it was clear that the comment meant "Sexual assault did not seem to be (any more of an issue with fraternities than with non-fraternities) when I was there."

Think of your own personal circle of friends: would you say sexual assault an issue with your friends? Would you consider your friend group a "murder and rape factory"? Hopefully, no.

That doesn't mean that none of your friends have ever committed sexual assault, though. Your best friend may have a deep, dark secret. That one guy/girl that's always making jokes may have a side to their personality that nobody has seen.

If you say "sexual assault does not seem to be an issue with my circle of friends" in the middle of this conversation, I can figure out from context that you mean "It can happen anywhere, with people you'd never expect, but if it's happening in my circle of friends, it's a rarity and happens unbeknownst to myself and others because there is no culture of glorifying or accepting it, unlike at Phi Psi."
posted by Bugbread at 5:20 PM on May 2 [2 favorites]


Back in the 1980s I ran a program for first-time juvenile offenders (lawbreakers) in Ithaca, NY. The worst kids I had to deal with with were the Cornell frat boys who seemed to feel their status protected them from arrest. I'll never forget the arrogant jerk who didn't think he deserved to be punished for totally trashing a rival frat member's fancy car for some minor slight. Frats and frat culture need to go the way of other male-only institutions, gone, bye bye, don't come back.
posted by mareli at 6:41 AM on May 3 [3 favorites]


A student at my alma mater died earlier this year in a suspected hazing incident. I'm sure that there are some safe, well-run fraternities out there somewhere, but even one kid dying makes the whole system not worth it in my opinion.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:52 AM on May 3 [4 favorites]


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