Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
At the second in a series of discussions on social life sparked by the potential referendum on Greek life, 55 students hashed out expectations for safety and inclusively in public social spaces and demanded accountability from the College’s fraternities, Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi.
But some were frustrated by the slow progress of these discussions, the first of which was moderated by The Daily Gazette‘s Co-Editor in Chief Max Nesterak. The Friday meeting was hosted Student Council.
“It’s really hard to get the focus away from ‘let’s keep having a discourse’ to changing things concrete,” said Allison Hrabar ’16.
Paige Willey ’16, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta, was also frustrated. “In the next meeting I’d like to see people come prepared with suggestions of what specifically needs to be done, and specifically how to accomplish it.”
The three central questions of the meeting were:
What does it mean to have a safe, fun, and inclusive social life?
Where have we as a community failed to meet these standards?
What solutions, processes, and goals do we believe will help us as a community to address these concerns and challenges?
A heartfelt statement by Karlene Burrell-McRae, director of the Black Cultural Center and dean of the sophomore class, set the tone for the discussion. Burrell-McRae left after her statement.
Students, Burrell-McRae said, can “choose to be builders or destroyers of this community” by how they participate in the discussion of campus Greek life and beyond. She discouraged them from scapegoating or outing their fellow students in discussions, and stated that this was not the space to decide if certain groups were going to be abolished.
However, the conversation quickly turned to the issue of the of fraternity houses themselves, with proposals to turn the houses over to the student body as a “community-owned space.”
Some students said they liked the idea of turning the frat houses into social spaces with no affiliation. Another student encouraged fraternity members to forge relationships with other student groups to work through the perceived Greek/Non-Greek divide on campus.
Others were concerned that making the fraternity houses community-owned might threaten the security of other such specialized campus spaces as the Intercultural Center and the Black Cultural Center. One student stated that they were uncomfortable taking the houses away from the fraternities, which they perceived as an attack on the groups.
A student made the point that the fraternities are the only group on campus that throw parties every weekend, which effectively “closes” the space for individuals who feel uncomfortable around members of either fraternity.
Another student said that we need to consider how those spaces “normalize” certain inappropriate behaviors and give members “permission” to act in ways that they otherwise might not.
These issues, some argued, come down to accountability. Who can you go to safely if you need to lodge a complaint against a fraternity brother?
At this meeting as well as at last week’s, a few students came forward with personal stories of feeling unsafe or threatened at the fraternities. By the end of the meeting the conversation turned to if and how fraternity members who behaved inappropriately should be punished.
Certain students feel that the social pressures allow brothers to “protect” each other against punitive measures, and work against survivors of incidences of discrimination and violence originating in the fraternity houses.
“One of the impressions I have gotten in speaking with individuals about their concerns with the fraternities is the fact that they’re afraid to discuss harmful incidents with the Greek leadership and the administration,” said Jesse Dashevsky ’13, adding that these students fear reprisals from their peers.
In an email President Rebecca Chopp sent to the student body on Friday about preventing sexual assault, she highlighted a passage in the College’s sexual misconduct policy that says any person “who files a complaint, or participates in a resolution process as a witness, has the right to freedom from intimidation and retaliation.”
Some at the discussion emphasized transparency in disciplinary proceedings within the fraternity, whether this meant asking a brother to leave the fraternity or giving alleged offenders counseling. One student reminded the forum that that in Judiciary Council hearings and other punitive procedures there are issues of confidentiality.
While some want to introduce a Greek Advisory Council, others fear this is just more bureaucratic “red tape” that could intimidate or dissuade those who want to come forward with complaints.
Many students seemed eager to establish what a “safe space” would look like, in the fraternities and beyond, and to discuss how we hold groups accountable to the larger campus community. Members of Delta Upsilon and Kappa Alpha Theta said that they were actively promoting and organizing “sober brother” and “event monitor” programs to better control social events.
Zachary Nacev ’13 of Delta Upsilon said he wants to work toward Greek life providing a “safe space, fun space where everyone can be comfortable.” He added he was glad that people felt comfortable sharing their stories, and concerns, with the group gathered on Friday.
“It’s moving,” Nacev said. “I think this discussion can only be positive.”