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.
Soon after the blog began publishing, a trove of leaked documents representing meeting minutes and other notes from Phi Psi, which is not affiliated with the national Phi Kappa Psi organization, were published on Voices and the Phoenix, both college publications. While the documents were from the years 2012 to 2016, some students have said they reflect their experiences from more recent years, and the details sparked outrage across campus.
In the documents, fraternity members referenced a “rape attic” and a “rape tunnel.” Some spoke of acquiring date-rape drugs. Others recounted sexual encounters with underage girls. Some referenced videos or photos taken of women at parties without their consent. Some made offensive jokes about the race and appearances of women at their parties, while others appeared to make gleeful jokes about demeaning things that happened to the women during sexual encounters. Many comments degraded those in the LGBT community.
On Saturday, a group of around 50 protesters, who call themselves the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence, began their sit-in. The group grew to more than 100 people.
Just after the sit-in began, Swarthmore College President Valerie Smith sent out a letter to students announcing she had suspended all fraternity activities on campus—the school has only one other fraternity, Delta Upsilon—and launched an investigation. On Monday, she condemned the contents of the documents. “What is contained within those pages is vulgar and deeply offensive to all of us,” she said in the statement. “The racism, misogyny, and homophobia described within them is antithetical to the values of the College and violates the student code of conduct as well as basic decency.”
Students have said they will not be happy until the college shuts down both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon. They are also demanding that Swarthmore terminate the two fraternities’ housing leases and repurpose them for housing for historically marginalized groups on campus.
In an April 17 statement, current Phi Psi fraternity members said they “wholeheartedly condemn the language in the 2013 and 2014 notes, as they are not representative of who we are today.” They added: “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.”
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