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Swarthmore College fraternities disband after protests over documents referencing ‘rape attic’

These fraternities disbanded after activists occupied one of the houses.

"Parrish Hall, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA"
"Parrish Hall, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, USA"

Two fraternities at Swarthmore College announced they would disband on Tuesday, following the release of leaked documents that released their history of misogynist and racist behavior.

The documents, which were sent to student publications and titled, “Phi Psi Historical Archives,” referred to a “rape attic,” used misogynistic language to refer to women, and made racist and queerphobic remarks dating from 2010 to 2016. The documents led to four days of protests on campus, including a sit-in at one of the fraternity houses at the private Pennsylvania liberal arts college.

According to Voices, one of the student publications that reported on the documents, a “recurring theme” of these documents was fraternity members sharing nonconsensual photos and videos of women having sex with fraternity members.

One 2013 comment in the document reads, “Anyways, it was so packed in Phi after the concert that I was legitimately scared of being accused of sexual harassment for rubbing up against so many tits. Every time I turned around I felt like I just whacked a girl in the cans. Sluts.”

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Student activists from the group Coalition to End Fraternity Violence led a sit-in at the Phi Psi fraternity house last weekend. Students eventually occupied the house after one told a campus safety official they left something inside the building, and once inside, the student let other protesters inside. The police were called afterwards, but they did not arrest protesters and instead parked a patrol car outside of the house, according to BuzzFeed News.

Student activists did a deep clean of the house, which they said was filthy, and put up a banner reading “Close the rape attic! Time’s up!”

The student activists originally had three demands: Terminate the college-granted leases for Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi houses immediately, dissolve both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon fraternities at Swarthmore, and “reallocate the fraternity houses to groups that have been historically marginalized by fraternities (students of color, queer and trans students, disabled students, survivors).”

Daria Mateescu, a junior at Swarthmore who is a member of the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence, said in an email to ThinkProgress said that the plan is for students to remain there indefinitely until the college “issues a satisfactory confirmation that the leases have been ended and Phi Psi and DU banned from campus permanently.”

It’s unclear how the university will proceed with the other demands now that the fraternities have disbanded. 

In a statement on its Facebook page Tuesday evening, Phi Psi announced they planned to disband and added:

The content of the documents released is unacceptable, and we understand the long-term impact of the documents on our fraternity’s culture as a toxic element that cannot continue to exist on Swarthmore’s campus … As we said in our earlier statement, the current members were in high school and middle school at the time of the writing of these documents. 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. We cannot in good conscience be members of an organization with such a painful history.

The Phi Psi said it “made it our mission” to improve the culture and perception of the fraternity.

Delta Upsilon wrote on Facebook that it was “in the best interest of the Swarthmore community” to disband and that “We hope that our former house will provide a space that is inclusive, safe, and promotes healing.”

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On Saturday, Swarthmore President Valerie Smith condemned the documents and said that after consulting with an external investigator on the matter, she decided to suspend fraternity activities “pending the outcome of an investigation.”

Before the sit-in, activists as well as faculty, parents, and alumni participated in an online letter writing campaign to various university decision-makers to demand they end leases granted to the fraternities. Activists told ThinkProgress people sent more than 1,400 letters as part of that effort. Last week, students also disrupted meetings, including a meeting where President Smith was present.

A Tumblr called “Why Swathmore Fraternities Must Go” described incidents connected to the fraternities. Mateescu, who started the Tumblr, said most of the stories are from the past year. She got involved in these activism efforts about a month and a half ago because she felt as if people believed what she said about violence at fraternities.

“In light of this, I thought there was a need to compile a list of anonymous accounts from myself, my friends, and ultimately submissions from strangers to show how awful and how many accounts of fraternity violence existed at Swarthmore,” she told ThinkProgress. “Though my worst experiences of violence have not taken place in fraternities, their existence and the resources they hold have exerted incredible harm upon people I care about and the community as a whole. Out of that desperation, pain, and hope that my peers would support us if we took a leap, I created the Tumblr.”

One person who posted on the Tumblr described an incident where a fraternity member walked them home when they were extremely intoxicated.

The person wrote, “I had thrown up several times uncontrollably. My jeans were pulled down to my ankles. When my friend tried asking me what happened, I was very confused and kept asking my friend where I was when I was in my own dorm room. I had no idea there had been anyone else in my room. I only found all of this out the next day when the brother messaged me asking for something he had left in my room. When I realized we had sex, I asked him to admit he probably shouldn’t have had sex with me in the state I was in, he told me that I was ‘lucky a nice guy like him had walked me home and taken care of me…’”

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Although Phi Psi’s statement mentions that fraternity members were in high school when some of these actions and comments recorded in the documents took place, some students say they’re indicative of the existing culture at these fraternities.

Yasmeen Namazie, who graduates this year, told Voices that she posted a story on the Tumblr page about her own sexual assault at the Phi Psi fraternity house during her freshman year. Namazie said she wanted people to know about incidents after 2013.

“I definitely want people to know. Because people say ‘oh this did happen, but it’s kind of ambiguous if the person is still here.’ But this was happening my freshman year. And I talked to another woman who lived on my hall freshman year and it happened to her, too. […] This is not outdated by any means,” Namazie said.

Mateescu said that having the fraternities on campus made her feel “hopeless.”

“It seemed so impossible to put up a fight big enough to have them banned. I felt scared when I heard so many stories of violence and experienced it myself, only to continue going to the fraternity because that was where everyone I knew went on the weekends,” she wrote to ThinkProgress. “I felt alone when I spoke out and was retaliated against by fraternity members, but now I feel immensely proud to be part of the best community I can imagine, one where students are taught to stand up against injustice and where students to do not fracture, but unite in the fight to achieve a more fair and just environment for themselves and each other.”

Update: This post has been updated to include comment from student activists.