Swarthmore Students Stage Sit-In At Fraternity Known For Alleged 'Rape Attic'

Former Phi Psi members boasted about their sexual conquests and hazing rituals, leaked documents show.

Leaked documents written by former Swarthmore College fraternity members showcasing a culture of sexual violence and racism within their clubs have prompted a wave of student-led protests across campus, including an ongoing sit-in that began Saturday.

Daria Mateescu, a member of the Swarthmore Coalition to End Fraternity Violence, which organized the sit-in, told HuffPost that dozens of students have taken part in the demonstration inside the Phi Psi fraternity house.

“Right now we have maybe 25 [participants] in there,” said Mateescu, a junior at the small liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. “It oscillates. The most we had was 120. There’s a lot more people at night.”

The group is calling on the Swarthmore administration to issue a major crackdown on the school’s two fraternities, Phi Psi (not related to the national Phi Kappa Psi fraternity) and Delta Upsilon, following an outpouring of anonymous allegations against current and former fraternity members.

The fraternities have long had reputations for hosting parties where drunk women are preyed upon and bigoted remarks fly free, but most students felt powerless to take a stand, Mateescu said.

That all changed on April 3, she said, when a Tumblr page titled “Why Swarthmore’s Fraternities Must Go” was created to give students a space to submit anonymous accounts of misconduct at the fraternities.

The page has since received over 100 submissions describing allegations of sexual assault, racism, homophobia and other inappropriate acts carried out by fraternity members between 2015 and 2019.

Shortly after the Tumblr page was created, Swarthmore student-run newspapers Voices and The Phoenix published redacted versions of leaked minutes and pledge tasks documented by Phi Psi members between 2013 and 2016.

In the 116 pages of leaked documents, Phi Psi members joked about members’ sexual conquests and alcohol-fueled hazing rituals and reference a “rape attic,” a disturbing term for the single bedroom built into each of the fraternity houses.

Hours after the sit-in began on Saturday, Swarthmore President Valerie Smith announced the suspension of fraternity activities pending the outcome of an investigation into the documents.

Current members of the Phi Psi chapter issued a statement on April 17 to “wholeheartedly condemn the language in 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,” according to their statement.

But the Swarthmore Coalition to End Fraternity Violence and its allies say fraternity members from both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon have continued to perpetrate harmful acts in the years since the documents were written.

Some current members are “widely known for using slurs and for having assaulted people,” Mateescu said. “All the women who go to the parties know to stay away from the bedrooms [in the fraternities] at all cost.”

On April 21, a former Swarthmore student who was a member of Phi Psi from 2011 to 2015 wrote an op-ed in The Phoenix calling for the removal of fraternities on campus.

“Violence, disparaging language, and other behavior attributed to Phi Psi members have been partially documented by the Swarthmore Fraternities Tumblr,” Callen Rain wrote. “I can confirm these are not isolated instances but come from a culture that pervades this institution.”

He continued: “During my time at Swarthmore, the leadership of Phi Psi consistently failed to expel members of the group or otherwise sanction them for their behavior, which primarily took the form of sexual violence, and homophobic and misogynistic language.”

Sit-in organizers have three demands for the school’s administration: terminate leases for the two fraternity houses, dissolve the fraternities and reallocate the houses to groups who have been historically marginalized by the fraternities.

Swarthmore has one sorority, though Mateescu said her group isn’t demanding it be shuttered, noting that it doesn’t have a house like the two fraternities.

Smith said in a statement Monday that she would announce her decisions on whether to dissolve the fraternities and their housing leases after a task force she formed in October completes its holistic review of the school’s social activities and the role of Greek life.

“I absolutely condemn the language and actions described in the documents from 2013-16,” Smith said in her statement. “What is contained within those pages is vulgar and deeply offensive to all of us. 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.”

Mateescu said at least three fraternity members have resigned following the leaked documents dump. Others have mocked the sit-in demonstrators and called the police on them, she said. As of Tuesday afternoon, none of the protesters had been arrested.

Despite some pushback from fraternity members, the outpouring of support has been overwhelming, Mateescu said.

“This is the most united the school has been in a long time,” she said. “Every organization is out here supporting in some way. ... It’s been really incredible to see how many people care and show support in really tangible ways.”

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