Swarthmore College Fraternity Scandal



by Tejas Vadali

*Names with hyperlinks attached to them lead to audio clips of interviews

Greek life has existed on college campuses across America in some form or another since 1776. Fraternities began as forums for political discourse, religious debate, and rhetoric, but in the 243 years since, they’ve become notorious for their culture of partying and drinking that do little to incite intellectual discussion.

In addition to rampant alcoholism, fraternities have become synonymous with misogynistic organizations that denigrate the female and LGBTQ+ communities. Debate about the morality of fraternities was reignited earlier this year for this very reason. In late April, several documents including hate speech against the LGBTQ+ community as well as countless jokes about sexual assault were found in the Phi Psi fraternity house at Swarthmore College. The 117 pages of offensive content, written between 2010 and 2016, speak disparagingly about LGBTQ+ students at Swarthmore and slander numerous former members of Kappa Alpha Theta, the college’s lone sorority.

The scandal arose when Swarthmore’s school paper, The Phoenix, received an anonymous message that contained all 117 pages of the self-dubbed “Phi Psi Historical Archives,” stirring up a commotion among current students, school administration, and incoming freshmen. Through the first two weeks of this month, there have been multiple protests on the lawn of the Phi Psi frat house. Swarthmore’s President, Valerie Smith, stated, “As a community, we have much healing to do. We have heard heartbreaking stories from students who feel unwelcome to the point of wanting to transfer out of our community. Those stories have come from across the spectrum of our student body — from student protesters to fraternity members. Stories such as these reflect our failure to realize the values we so often espouse.”

Incoming freshmen to Swarthmore have also expressed their displeasure upon hearing of the scandal. Julian Lee-Zacheis, part of Swarthmore’s class of 2023, recalled that his “first reaction was anger. Even with the small number of students in fraternities, that frat culture was something that had been pulling me away from Swarthmore already. And to see that highlighted made me really mad.”

In response to the outright misogyny and prejudice exhibited by the former Phi Psi brothers at Swarthmore, the current members of both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, the school’s other fraternity, voted unanimously to disband, a move that school president Valerie Smith supported wholeheartedly. Phi Psi members released the following excerpt from a lengthy letter they penned:

“Since the start of our membership, we made it our mission to improve the culture and perception of Phi Psi. Unfortunately, the wounds are too deep to repair, and the best course of action for all those involved is to disband the fraternity completely and give up the fraternity house. We condemn sexual violence, racism, homophobia, misogyny, and discrimination in all of its forms, and we will continue as individuals to work to create a campus where these issues are eradicated completely. We hope that our decision will help the campus achieve transformative justice for those who have been harmed and promote institutional healing.”

In the wake of the scandal, many schools have begun to look at their own fraternities with more scrutiny, causing some concern among prospective frat members. However, those incoming freshmen who are intent on joining frats seem resolute in their opinions. A Latin senior remarked that he thinks, “Frats are just getting a bad rap because of stupid kids at one school doing really stupid stuff. Yes, I know there is alcoholism at frats. Where isn’t there alcoholism on a college campus?” he said. “Fraternities still offer you a plethora of connections and networks you can carry on well after your college days. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that opportunity because of some idiots who made a dumb decision. I know it looks bad for frats, but I believe that we’ll clear our name in due time, and until then, I can only hope and pray that those affected recover from the terrible decision making of the brothers of Phi Psi.”