Statement of purpose
This petition proposes a referendum with the question, “Do you believe that the presence of fraternities and sororities should continue to be permitted at Swarthmore College?” Beyond that, though, it is also a tool to make more members of the campus community aware of the conversations that are happening among pockets of students about Greek organizations at Swarthmore. The petition has now received sufficient signatures for Student Council to hold the referendum. However, the referendum is not the only piece of the puzzle. What the campus needs right now is conversation driven by the prospect of a referendum. The referendum will be delayed until these conversations happen.
Why a referendum?
The catalyst for the petition for a referendum about the presence of Greek life on Swarthmore College launching when it did was the Feb. 14 Phoenix staff editorial, which stated that a referendum “force both advocates and opponents of fraternities to explain their positions to the student body” and “finally give all students a chance to have a say on the presence of an institution which affects their lives.”
However, the story of the referendum started last year — or 80 years ago, depending on how you look at it. After all, sororities were abolished in 1933 through campus-wide discussion and a referendum. There is no reason that their return should not have occurred the same way. Yet it did not. During the 2011-2012 academic year, the idea of a revived sorority was just coming into campus consciousness. There were some discussions about it, the main evidence of which can be found in the Daily Gazette’s Sorority Row series. But then there was silence. And then over the spring semester, without the knowledge of most of the student body, the Board of Managers and an extension committee that included President Chopp and Dean Braun approved a sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, being brought back. Apart from a short blurb in Student Council meeting notes from Feb. 22, 2012, there was little awareness of the sorority becoming a reality until the end of last summer.
A petition for a referendum to halt Theta’s arrival on campus was launched last semester. Despite receiving enough signatures to go to referendum, it never ended up going to a vote because the creation of the sorority was a Title IX issue: since Swarthmore has fraternities, if students want to create a sorority, they may not be stopped, since it is an issue of gender equality. This last petition did not come without dialogue of its own. As well as private conversations, Facebook wall fights and Daily Gazette comment wars, there were several meetings hosted by Not Yet Sisters. Unfortunately, the majority of these meetings were framed as interest meetings at which sorority antagonists would be unwelcome. Further attempts by individual students to set up meetings with deans, members of the steering committee and NYS members were all blocked. Though this was far more likely due to the administrators’ and NYS members’ busy schedules than to deliberate attempts on their parts at stalling communication, the end results were the same: the concerns of students who did not support the sorority’s creation were left floating.
That brings us to this semester. Theta sisters have received their bids and are due to be initiated in two weeks. The campus is still papered in “Think Theta” posters, Theta badges cover sisters’ bags, and some women sip juice out of Theta drinking cups. The sorority has arrived. But there are still those who are opposed to an expansion of Greek life. What of them? There was no room for conversation in the last year. So we need to talk now.
Please note that this statement has been written by one person whose views may not reflect those of all who have signed the petition for a referendum. Different people have different views, some of which you may view on the Signatures page. Furthermore, if you have any concerns that have not been addressed here, please feel free to comment on this page. If you would not like your comment to be displayed publicly, but would still like a response to it, please write DO NOT PUBLISH somewhere in your comment and it will stay in the moderation queue.
Why not Greek life?
Many of the arguments against Greek life at Swarthmore are based on students’ negative experiences at the fraternity houses. Brothers have been known to perpetrate both sexual and non-sexual violence and to have this behavior tolerated by the rest of their fraternity. Myriad students have reported being harassed, both verbally and physically, on the basis of their gender, sexual, racial and/or ethnic identities. The fraternities are a hotbed of unsafe drinking practices: several students were hospitalized and cited for underage drinking after last semester’s Delta Upsilon formal, an event which is closed to brothers and their dates. (I rely on anecdotal evidence here and do not cite national statistics about fraternities and sororities because they have often been responded to in the past with the comment, “But Greek life at Swarthmore is different.”) It is true that there are people of color and queer people in the fraternities and sorority. It is also true that rape culture and problematic drinking and partying culture exist outside of Greek organizations at Swarthmore. These facts do not cancel out the problems that the Greek organizations perpetuate.
This statement summarizes some of the reasons why students would like to see a majority vote of “no” on the referendum. It is the only statement on the value of Greek life because this page was created by someone who supports the removal of Greek organizations. If you would like to see your viewpoint represented on this page in a “Why Greek life?” section, please comment below.
Ten percent of the student body has already signed, but we are still accepting signatures! The referendum can only be held within two weeks after it is submitted to Student Council, so it will not be officially submitted until productive campus-wide dialogue has taken place.
A very well-attended meeting was held on Feb. 21, where many concerns were aired from all sides. Planning meetings with Greek life leaders, administrators, and Student Council are in the works for the next couple of days in order to figure out when the next similar meeting will be, what format it will take, whether it will be themed, and if so, what said theme will be.