As we hope you are well aware, the referendum on Greek life will be taking place today and tomorrow on Moodle. Since the referendum is fast approaching and given the recent dispute over posters we have put up, we thought it would be helpful to clarify the origin of this campaign and the rationale behind it.
So, how did we get here? The campaign began last spring, when the administration announced that it would permit sororities to return to campus. A number of us were bothered by the fact that this decision was handed down by the administration, with little input from the student body. Nevertheless, we decided to look into the issue, and spoke with a number of members of the Not Yet Sisters (NYS) who intended to form the sorority. We left these conversations reassured by two promises: first, that a sorority-to-be would provide financial assistance in order to eliminate economic barriers to potential pledges, and second, that it would have a clear policy of admitting any woman-identified student.
Fast forward to this spring, by which time NYS had selected Kappa Alpha Theta for its national affiliation. The national chapter sent two Educational Leadership Consultants, or ELCs, to campus with the intention of recruiting members and answering the community’s questions about Theta. We found it upsetting that the ELCs—representatives of the national organization and its values—proved ignorant of trans issues, stating that a trans person’s sex assigned at birth is their “real gender.” Moreover, in an open meeting on campus, the ELCs and national representatives from Kappa Alpha Theta stated sisters would need to be registered as female on the college records in order to be a part of the sorority. While Swarthmore’s chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta announced yesterday in a public notice that they will admit trans women and provide financial assistance for dues, we have been, and remain, troubled by the fact that the group would choose to affiliate with a national organization whose stated policies discriminate on the basis of wealth and gender.
During the period in which the sorority got its start, a separate set of issues with the fraternities began to come to light. A number of intensely troubling stories of sexual assault, violent behavior, and homophobic, sexist and racist hate speech committed by members of the fraternities, in and out of their houses, came to our attention. Beyond the incidents themselves, we were shocked by the indifference of witnesses (brothers included) and the lack of accountability among the fraternity leadership when they were informed of what transpired. These problems have been illustrated by two students who courageously shared their stories in The Daily Gazette. In an op-ed published on The Daily Gazette in February, Parker Murray ’15 describes being verbally and physically assaulted by a brother while others looked on; the offender was not punished by his fraternity. In another piece, Marian Firke ’14 describes being harassed by the multiple fraternity brothers who aimed to keep her quiet about the menacing behavior of one of their brothers.
Given inadequate responses by the Greek organizations and administration to these problems, we decided that holding a referendum on Greek life would call attention to the issue. Joyce Wu ’15 announced the first petition to hold a referendum in mid-February. The leaders of the Greek organizations took offense at this and claimed that the move came out of left field. We then agreed to hold all-campus discussions about the problems with Greek life. At the first meeting, representatives of the Greek organizations did not propose any meaningful policies to address the problems raised. The second meeting was nearly scuttled when Greek organization leadership refused to have the meeting moderated by a dean trained in mediation. Still, we relented and allowed the meeting to proceed with the Student Council co-presidents moderating in place of the dean. At this meeting, members of the Greek organizations once again proposed no substantive policies and rejected all structural changes posed by unaffiliated students.
Since the discussion was not leading toward any concrete solution to the pressing problems of violent behavior and hate speech, Joyce decided to hold a new petition for a referendum. In light of the perspectives the discussion opened up, we included six questions in the new referendum to make it a true test of campus opinion, which you can read here. These proposals include five major structural reforms to Greek organizations and a proposal for abolition. They are:
Since we have heard from many students that the posters we hung last week made too short shrift of the issues, we’d like to spell out here the reasons for voting YES on Monday and Tuesday:
In order for the referendum to pass, 1/3 of the campus must participate in the vote, and of those who do not vote “no preference” each question, a majority must vote “yes.”
Please consider these points and use them to inform your decision when you vote today or tomorrow. Thank you.
Op-Ed submitted by Amanda Epstein ’15, Koby Levin ’15, Hope Brinn ’15, Parker Murray ’15, and Joyce Wu ’15 on behalf of Swat Vote Yes