Student activists at Swarthmore College are demanding the school permanently shut down campus fraternities in the aftermath of leaked documents showing racist, misogynist and homophobic comments as well as jokes about sexual assault allegedly from fraternity members.
The controversy began on April 18 when campus publications Voices and the Phoenix published documents leaked by an anonymous source describing parties thrown by the Swarthmore fraternity Phi Psi. The documents, from 2012 through 2016, included derogatory remarks toward women, minorities and the LGBTQ community as well as discussions of sexual assault and alleged evidence of hazing.
“Rape jokes, descriptions of sexual assault naming specific women and being generally ableist, racist, homophobic,” Olivia Smith, a Swarthmore student, told NBC10.
The articles sparked protests from students, conversations about fraternity culture on campus, and demands for Phi Psi and the school's only other fraternity, Delta Upsilon, to be closed.
While student activists say the comments from the leaked documents only came from Phi Psi members, they also cited a Tumblr blog detailing alleged incidents of sexual misconduct, racism and homophobia from members of both campus frats.
"Nothing about these documents reflect that these minutes or hazing practices were done in isolation," Olivia Smith wrote to NBC10. "The Tumblr speaks to ongoing harm in fraternities and structures of fraternities themselves represent a continuity that works against any sort of isolated set of events."
On April 27, Swarthmore College President Valerie Smith announced they had suspended fraternity activities pending the outcome of an investigation from an “external investigator.”
Smith’s letter came the same day members of the student advocacy groups Organizing for Survivors and Swarthmore Coalition Against Fraternity Violence staged a sit-in and protest both inside and outside the Phi Psi house, which currently serves as a residence for one student. The protesters don’t just want a suspension but for both frats to be shut down permanently.
“We respect the rights of students at Swarthmore to express their views and beliefs,” Smith wrote in her letter. “As Dean Terhune mentioned in his message earlier this week, we will continue to hold students accountable to our community standards. At Swarthmore, civility and dissent must co-exist.”
Members of the Phi Psi fraternity, which is not affiliated with a national organization, released a statement on Facebook condemning the language used in the leaked documents while also stating the documents were not representative of who they are today.
“All our current brothers were in high school and middle school at the time of these unofficial minutes, and none of us would have joined the organization had this been the standard when we arrived at Swarthmore,” they wrote.
The fraternity members also cited Phi Psi’s participation in a 2016 campaign speaking out against sexual misconduct on campus.
“We are a group of 59 diverse brothers who are active members of the Swarthmore community and wish to be agents of meaningful change like everyone else,” they wrote. “Moving forward, we will continue to work hand in hand with the administration and campus community to achieve our shared goals.”
Olivia Smith responded to Phi Psi's statement.
"Hazing rituals continue in cycles, senior members teach freshman brothers the same toxic ideologies," she wrote. "Essentially the practices that were taught in the 80's and today through this ingrained structure of exclusive and self-isolating continuity."
The student protesters say they will continue to stage the sit-in until their demands are met.
“The school is going to be pushed into change based on the sheer amount of support that we have,” Maya Henry, a Swarthmore student, said.
No arrests or citations have been made in connection to the sit-in.
Swarthmore College is a private, liberal arts college located in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. Total student enrollment is currently at 1641.