US students demand fraternity closure

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-48110954

Students hold a "sit-in" at Phi Psi fraternity, Swarthmore College (28 April)Image copyright
Grace Dumdaw

Image caption

The protesters say fraternities have too much power on campus

Dozens of US students are on the fourth day of a “sit-in” protest at a college fraternity after the leak of meeting minutes which referred to buying date rape drugs and a “rape attic”.

Protesters are calling for the two fraternities at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, to be banned from campus.

Several students have also accused fraternity members of sexual assault.

In response, Swarthmore has suspended the activities of both organisations for the rest of the semester.

It is carrying out further investigations into Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, following the leak of documents detailing racist, misogynistic and homophobic language used at a Phi Psi meeting.

Fraternities are exclusive, mostly all-male student organisations. Some are based on areas of study, professions, academic credentials, or on specific religious or ethnical backgrounds. Others serve more of a social purpose.

Earlier this month, two student publications – The Phoenix and Voices – published what are alleged to be internal documents from the Phi Psi fraternity.

The redacted, 117-page documents include “meeting minutes” and details of pledging rituals from 2012-16. They feature offensive language and accounts of physical and sexual assaults, and bravado about buying “date rape” drugs.

The “minutes” also allege that Delta Upsilon “have both a rape tunnel AND a rape attic (gotta choose one or the other)”.

Allegations of sexual assault, violence and harassment have also been shared by students on an anonymous Tumblr page named “Why Swarthmore’s Fraternities Must Go.”

In response, student protesters on Saturday began occupying Phi Psi’s on-campus fraternity house and camping outside.

Organizing for Survivors (O4S) and the Swarthmore Coalition Against Fraternity Violence, which arranged the protest, are calling on Swarthmore to terminate the leases of both fraternities and ban them from campus. Instead, they want the properties to be designated for “marginalised” students groups like women and ethnic minorities.

Fraternities are the only student groups able to lease property on campus. Many members also play in college sports teams, and alumni are often important donors for fundraising campaigns. Organiser Morgin Goldberg, 22, told the BBC that this had given fraternities “undue social power that they not only hold, but abuse”.

Ms Goldberg says she has witnessed harassment, racism and homophobia by members.

“If any other student group had this way of conduct, they would be off campus in 10 seconds,” she added.

Phi Psi, which is not affiliated with the national umbrella group for fraternities, was suspended from Swarthmore in 2016 for violating its alcohol and drugs policy. It reopened for parties a year ago.

In a statement, the group said language used in the leaked documents “[was] 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.”

Delta Upsilon fraternity told Philadelphia Magazine that it read the documents “with total revulsion” and said they “do not reflect the values” of the group.

In an email statement, a Swarthmore spokesperson said the college was “committed to fully investigating” any allegations, but conceded that “it is very difficult to investigate anonymous [ones].”

A task force was set up last year “to critically examine social life on campus, including [fraternity/sorority] life”. It will deliver its recommendations to college President Valerie Smith on 3 May.

“Isolating a few bad apples will not address the structure,” said Ms Goldberg.

“This is the start of the conversation, not the end of it, about social life at college and which students groups are represented and which are under the bus”.

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