Swarthmore College has hired an external investigator to look into the details revealed in a trove of internal fraternity documents describing members’ derogatory comments about women, minorities, LGBTQ people, and sexual assault.
In a Saturday letter to the college community, President Valerie Smith said she would suspend all fraternity activities on campus pending the outcome of the investigation.
The documents, leaked about two weeks ago, were written on internet bulletin boards between 2012 and 2016.
The investigation puts a question mark on the future of fraternity groups at Swarthmore, which had suspended one of the two campus fraternities in 2016 for violating the school’s drug and alcohol policy. The investigation comes at a time when the college administration is facing pressure to disband frat clubs, which enable predatory behavior, according to advocates for survivors of sexual violence.
More than 100 students protested frat actions on Saturday with a sit-in at Phi Psi, one of the school’s two fraternities and the house at the center of the controversy. The demonstration continued Sunday with local police and campus security present.
By midday Sunday, a variety of people had posted almost identical expressions of support for the protesters on social media in what appeared to be a coordinated campaign. Those weighing in included students from other colleges and universities throughout the country.
Fraternities at Swarthmore serve as small club houses. Unlike those at bigger schools, they don’t serve as group residences. Only one student lives in a small loft in the Phi Psi building, a stone structure with a slate roof and leaded windows.
During the sit-in Saturday, the college asked Swarthmore Borough Police “to provide support and ensure a calm resolution. We are grateful for their presence,” Smith wrote.
On Friday, a task force on Greek life at the college held its last meeting and will make recommendations to the president next week.
In a column in the Phoenix, Swarthmore’s independent college newspaper, a former Phi Psi member Callen Rain demanded that the fraternities be disbanded. Rain condemned his former brothers’ behavior “which primarily took the form of sexual violence, and homophobic and misogynistic language.”
Rain wrote that “members of leadership were responsible in that they were either perpetrators of the behavior or had social relationships with those implicated.”
The college president said a review of the unredacted fraternity documents is ongoing and that all students would be held accountable to community standards.
“We respect the rights of students at Swarthmore to express their views and beliefs,” Smith said. “At Swarthmore, civility and dissent must coexist.”
Swarthmore, with a student body of about 1,600 students, is one of the most selective and highly ranked liberal arts colleges in America.