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At Swarthmore, frat’s X-rated internal document roils the progressive campus where the Greek system is imperiled

The leak comes just two months after the fraternity hosted its first open party since Phi Psi was suspended in fall 2016.

The Phi Psi fraternity house at Swarthmore College in April 2019.
The Phi Psi fraternity house at Swarthmore College in April 2019.Read moreErin McCarthy

Morgin Goldberg frequented Phi Psi parties as a freshman at Swarthmore College. For a while, the quaint stone house in the middle of the pastoral campus provided a backdrop for booze-fueled revelry with new friends.

Until that night in December 2015, she would report to administrators, when she was raped by a fraternity member after a formal.

Now a senior, Goldberg said she was disgusted but not surprised to wake up Thursday and read in two campus newspapers of disturbing internal fraternity documents that describe members’ derogatory discussions about women, minorities, LGBTQ people, and sexual assault.

“I think they really think it’s funny,” Goldberg said, “and revel in the fact that they can get away with it.”

On Thursday morning, the campus publications published a trove of internal documents from 2012 to 2016 that they say were anonymously leaked. The publications — the Phoenix, the independent campus newspaper, and Voices, a left-leaning alternative publication with an activist bent — redacted names and identifying information from the documents, which read like an X-rated newsletter to fraternity brothers chronicling Phi Psi parties and other activities around campus.

The Inquirer was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the leaked “historical archives,” a PDF document that includes dozens of pages of fraternity “meeting minutes,” chapter history, drinking game directions, and “scavenger hunt” task lists.

The leak came a year after the fraternity hosted its first open party since its fall 2016 suspension for violating the school’s drug and alcohol policy, the Phoenix reported.

A knock at the fraternity’s door Thursday went unanswered. Several former and current members, including the chapter president, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The group posted a statement on its Facebook page Wednesday night saying in part: “We wholeheartedly condemn the language of the 2013 and 2014 notes, as they are not representative of who we 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.”

The tension between Greek life and the rest of the Swarthmore student body has simmered for years. There are just two fraternities — Phi Psi, which isn’t nationally affiliated, and Delta Upsilon, which is — and the administration has faced renewed calls this year to terminate the leases of both organizations from Organizing for Survivors, a student group that advocates for survivors of sexual violence.

Goldberg and other Swarthmore students this year started a blog, “Why Swarthmore Fraternities Must Go,” where users could anonymously post their stories of sexual assault, harassment, and discriminatory behavior by fraternity members.

In light of Thursday’s articles, there have been renewed calls to disband the fraternities, which blog organizers say are toxic organizations that encourage predatory behavior.

“I think it squashes any semblance of a moral sense of self,” said junior Daria Mateescu, 20, of New York.

She, Goldberg, and freshman Amal Haddad said members’ behaviors haven’t changed in recent years. Many students are fed up with repeated failed attempts to change the culture of fraternities, they said.

“I think we’re now in a moment where it’s now or never,” Mateescu said.

>>READ MORE: Swarthmore students rally against ‘mishandling’ of sexual assaults

Last year, a committee of staff, faculty, and students studying campus culture recommended that the college consider a moratorium on leased fraternity houses on campus. President Valerie Smith declined to do so, citing in a letter “existing policies for responding to allegations of misconduct by students and student organizations" and saying that "preemptively placing a moratorium outside of the college’s stated policies could be construed as prejudicing the work of the task force before it begins.”

She commissioned a new task force to review Greek life on campus, whose work is ongoing. The two chairs of the group weren’t available for comment Thursday. A school spokesperson added that “while today’s news is concerning, the task force must be allowed to continue and complete its work.”

Smith said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the behaviors described in the leaked documents “are completely antithetical to our values as a diverse community of engaged learners who live and work together for the common good."

Maeve Juday, president of the campus’ lone sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, said she was torn over how the university should respond. She said she worries that if administrators shut down the fraternities, they’ll also close the sorority — which doesn’t have a house or hold parties, and doesn’t host events with the fraternities.

“It’s a very tricky situation,” Juday, 21, said. “Personally, and as someone with the values of our sorority, we’re not a huge fan of the fraternities.”

It’s unclear who wrote the Phi Psi meeting minutes, dated 2013 and 2014. The document includes crude and detailed descriptions of behavior by fraternity members as well as racist, homophobic, and misogynistic language, plus references to sexual conquests, date rape drugs, and other illegal drug use. There are photos of women — both selfies and images taken from afar during what appear to be parties — as well as memes and Photoshopped imagery.

The minutes also include language reflective of Swarthmore’s status as a most-selective liberal arts college with a progressive social justice mission: There are jokes about heteronormativity, gender fluidity, and the sexuality spectrum.

While there aren’t descriptions of physical abuse in the hazing of new members — as has been documented at other Pennsylvania institutions — there is a Philadelphia scavenger hunt that purportedly required pledges to complete embarrassing tasks (like posing publicly in sexually suggestive positions) and photograph them for proof. The student publications report these pledge hunts were used through 2016.

According to the school’s January 2019 hazing report, now required under Pennsylvania law, there were four reports of hazing over the last five years at Swarthmore, one in 2013 and three in 2016. It’s unclear what organizations allegedly hazed. One report led to a semester-long ban of social events; another prompted six weeks of probation.

The “minutes” also include references to a 2013 campus referendum on Greek life — which marked the culmination of what became known on campus as the “spring of our discontent” — and jokes about the times urine was found on the door of the school’s Intercultural Center.

That spring, after national news coverage and highly publicized Title IX complaints alleging Swarthmore mishandled complaints of sexual misconduct, the student body voted to uphold the fraternity presence on campus.

The same year, Phi Psi was condemned by school administrators for an inappropriate recruitment flier. It was a collage of photos of naked women.