Phi Psi “Minutes:” An “Open Secret?” Alums Respond to Leaked Archives

In the aftermath of the publishing of documents in the Phi Psi Historical Archives by Voices and the Phoenix, alums who attended Swarthmore during the spring of 2013, when most of the documents were written, expressed strong reactions. The articles have been shared across alum networks, prompting two former fraternity members and an alum who is also a current faculty member to write op-eds in the Phoenix, advocating for the termination of fraternity leases. Priya Dieterich ‘18 also created a “No Donation Pledge,” asking parents and alums to cease all donations to the College until Swarthmore terminates fraternity leases.

Interviews with alums revealed that Phi Psi members and non-members alike knew about the “minutes” before they were published last week, that Phi Psi “minutes” were circulated internally via email listserv, that DU also shared “minutes” via email listserv, and that student anti-frat activists attempted to gain access to the Phi Psi listserv in the Spring of 2013, warning administrators about the existence of this listserv on at least one occasion.

Allison Hrabar ‘16 participated in anti-frat organizing during her time at Swarthmore after the College mishandled her assault in 2014, reportedly violating federal law. Upon reading the articles about the leaked “Phi Psi Historical Archives” last week, Hrabar was angry, but unsurprised. She wrote to Voices, “My first reaction was horror. I had heard about the archives but only snippets. My next reaction was anger—if these had been released 2013-2016, maybe someone could have been held accountable.”

“I know now that Phi Psi and DU will just say the frats are better now, and that nothing needs to change. It's the same excuse they used when I publicly shared their bids,” Hrabar added, referencing an incident in October of 2013, when a member of Phi Psi posted a photo of the fraternity’s bids online, which featured a mosaic of naked women.

Conor Clark ‘16, former president of Phi Psi, wrote to Voices, “I thought we had addressed and put these issues to rest back in 2014. […] These acts never touched the character of the majority of brothers of Phi Psi, both past and present.” In last week’s statement to Voices, Phi Psi wrote that the documents “are not representative of who we are today.”

Clark also wrote, “When these documents were first ‘leaked,’ I almost wished that my name had not been redacted. I stand by my actions and my words during my time at Swarthmore, and I am not embarrassed in the slightest by that. What I am embarrassed about, is the hurtful commentary and dialogue surrounding me in these documents. Those statements do not represent me, and they are not representative of Phi Psi.”

Alums Say Many Students Knew About “Minutes” at the Time

Hrabar divulged to Voices that she and many other members of the campus community knew about the offensive “minutes” in the leaked archives at the time they were being written; she was told about their existence by Phi Psi members themselves. She wrote, “A few brothers had shown them to their friends and girlfriends, who showed copies to others or repeated their content. I really can't stress enough how much of an open secret these documents were—frat brothers who knew I would do anything to get them banned told me about them. They loved to joke about how bad they were.” She continued, “We [anti-frat activists] attempted to get access to the Phi Psi listserv with a fake gmail account as early as April 2013.”

Clark confirmed in an email to Voices that these documents were circulating at the time, and expressed disappointment at their being published last week, writing “I was disappointed when these documents reemerged […] There is language and betrayals which shock our sensibilities. I apologize for the the pain this has caused, and the wounds that were reopened by their release. I also understand that, to many, these are transgressions for which apology can never atone.”

He also confirmed that students outside of Phi Psi knew the documents existed. He wrote, “I was written about extensively in the minutes as a freshman and sophomore. Non-phi psi [sic] members would often tell me what was written about me because I personally didn’t receive them.” Clark continued, saying, “It was my understanding—and obviously I don’t speak for the entirety of campus—that these were pretty openly talked about for a while. Everybody recognized the fact that they were really not good, pretty bad. […] I heard more about the minutes from non-Phi Psi people than from Phi Psi people, so I didn’t realize it was a ‘hidden secret archive’ thing.”

Toby Levy ‘16, who was a Phi Psi member during the 2012-2013 academic year, indicated to Voices that almost all Phi Psi members at the time knew about the “minutes.” He also stated that students not in Phi Psi knew of the documents, writing, “I know for a fact that there are non-Phi Psi students who knew or know about and saw some of the minutes.” Levy shared that he spoke about the “minutes” to some students not in Phi Psi, writing “I discussed the few specific versions that I had seen with friends as deeply problematic to the point that I felt uncomfortable being in the Phi Psi community. I know a few other people who did or felt similarly. I discussed the extreme discomfort I had around people's names being used in compromising and private contexts, but I regret that I did not speak out at the time.”

Not all alums, however, knew about the “minutes” when they were being written. Raven Bennett ‘17, who has worked with Phi Psi members to create a Fraternity Mentorship program and collaborated with Clark on the “It’s On Us” video speaking out against sexual violence, noted that she was unaware of the existence of the documents in the archives before they were leaked. “I was deeply disappointed and disgusted when I read the articles about the documents in the archives,” she  said. “I had never heard about them before and I felt betrayed, because I had been very forthright with members of the fraternities, including sharing my own experience of being sexually assaulted at Swarthmore, and it seems they did not reciprocate that same level of transparency.”

“Minutes” Were Circulated Internally Via Email Listserv

Hrabar told Voices that during her time at Swarthmore, Phi Psi communicated internally via email listserv, which is how they shared these “minutes.”  She wrote to Voices, “Phi Psi had a listserv hosted on Swarthmore's servers. Any student group could set up a listserv through Swarthmore College Computer Society (SCCS). The minutes and other messages were sent via emails to the listserv. They later moved to use a gmail-based listserv, so that Swarthmore wouldn't have access to the messages.”

Clark confirmed that Phi Psi shared “minutes” via email listserv, initially using the Swarthmore server, but later switching over to personal gmail accounts. He said in an interview with Voices, “Minutes are something that were released on the Phi Psi email listserv. The acting president at the time made a very good call and said, ‘this cannot happen, this is not us, this is not what we do,’ and decided it [the “minutes”] could no longer be on the listserv. After that point [the “minutes” were] shared basically on Gmail or whatever. You had to opt in to receive it [the emails].”

Levy said that all members on the Phi Psi listserv received emails containing “minutes,” at least initially. He wrote to Voices, “Presumably, everyone who pledged received the minutes if they were on the Phi Psi listserv, but my strong sense—both from my own experience as well as discussions with others—is that only a small segment of the fraternity actually read the minutes regularly, was involved in them, or read any of the emails for that matter.”

An anonymous Phi Psu alum echoed Levy’s statements, writing, “Anyone who pledged and was on the fraternity listserv received these documents. Whether they opened or read them I cannot say. I treated the minutes like most listserv emails and didn't read them or read them closely. [...]  Like other former members I've spoken to, I'm ashamed I ever received these emails and that I didn't register their contents.”

Clark said the “minutes” weren’t always as offensive and egregious as the ones in the leaked archives. He told Voices, “It was like a newsletter. The majority of Phi Psi minutes read nothing like the documents that were released.” After the content of the “minutes” became more offensive, they were shared via non-Swarthmore server emails. Clark said, “All of a sudden the person writing the minutes changed and once that happened, he [the then-president of Phi Psi] was like ‘no, no, no, this can’t happen’ and it shifted to private and not all of the members.” Clark can’t remember exactly when this shift took place.

An anonymous alum who was a member of Swarthmore’s other fraternity, Delta Upsilon (DU), divulged to Voices that DU shared similar “minutes” internally via email listserv, at least while he was a member. This listserv, however, did not use Swarthmore server email addresses at all. He said to Voices, “It was DU policy that all pledging individuals and all members of DU have a gmail account from which to receive official emails and minutes and other communications from the fraternity, separate and apart from any Swarthmore email that we had.”

As indicated in last Thursday’s article, the “minutes” and other documents in the Phi Psi Historical Archive were shared with Voices anonymously via a link to a Google Drive folder. Clark said to Voices, “That folder was created in fall of 2014—not with any intention for those documents or anything, but more of a place for all of us to put photos and things. [...] Apparently, I’m listed as one of the owners of this folder. I didn’t know it existed. I was very upset to find out that these documents were put in that folder when I hadn’t seen it in so long. [...] I didn’t know those things were on there and I don’t know who put them on there.”

Alum Says Administrators Were Warned About Phi Psi Email Listserv Used to Circulate “Minutes” and Chose Not to Act

Hrabar recalled that, in 2013, anti-frat organizers tried to bring the listserv being used to share the “minutes” to the attention of administrators. She wrote, “Hope Brinn '15 met with Michael Hill [then and current Director of Public Safety] and Lili Rodriguez [then-Associate Dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development] on or around October 11, 2013 and told them about the Phi Psi listserv.”

She continued, “Hope specifically told them certain things in the emails that she knew because our friend Parker had seen them. Hope also told Hill and Rodriguez that swat [sic] could look at the emails because they all lived on the Swatmail server.” Brinn could not be reached for comment.

According to Hrabar, Hill and Rodriguez chose not to investigate the emails, citing the first amendment and protecting student privacy. Hrabar wrote to Voices, “They said they could investigate if someone who ‘felt harassed’ had copies of the emails and shared them with Public Safety. They repeated the first amendment line throughout the meeting.”  

The College’s electronic privacy policy states that the College reserves the right to monitor Swarthmore server emails if a violation of College policy or the law is suspected. The policy reads, “Individual right to privacy, though stringent and broad, is neither absolute nor unlimited. In particular, […] certain supervisors and administrators, as designated herein, may access an individual’s documents, communications, contacts and materials in cases of clear functional need to insure the efficient and responsible functioning of the College in the pursuit of its mission. This need extends to the proper assurance of a supportive—safe as well as nurturing—environment in which to learn and do one’s work.”

Hill denied being made aware of the documents, or the internal Phi Psi email listserv by which they were shared, before last Thursday. He wrote to Voices, “I have no recollection of being made aware of anything like that [a Phi Psi listserv by which internal documents and communications were shared].” He further wrote, “I first became aware of and saw the materials when they were published on Thursday. They disgust and deeply sadden me.”

Many Alums Support Call to End Fraternity Leases

Alums are split on the question of fraternity leases, with many who spoke to Voices leaning towards termination. Levy stressed to Voices that he supports the call for the termination of fraternity leases and, further, of fraternities themselves. He wrote, “Make no mistake, the language and conduct described in these minutes are abominable and this sort of behavior has no place at Swarthmore or anywhere else for that matter. I recognize that these documents are incredibly harmful to the campus community at large, and in particular to the survivor community. I deeply regret my involvement in Phi Psi and hope the administration will do the right thing and terminate the fraternities for good.”

Bennett echoes this sentiment, writing, “If Phi Psi has truly embraced a commitment to developing a culture of accountability and inclusion, as they claim, they would recognize that participating in trainings is not sufficient to repair the harm that has been done, and the only way of truly taking accountability is for current and past members to endorse forfeiting their house. I would encourage DU to do the same.”

Hrabar also supports student anti-frat activists in their fight for lease termination. She wrote to Voices, “[Anti-frat activists in 2013] failed in our campaign because we were mostly teenagers dealing with the emotional fallouts from our assaults trying to organize for the first time. I think O4S has shown a lot of organizing savvy in their demands—hopefully pushing for the termination of their leases will be successful.” She continued, “I unequivocally support the call to terminate the frat house leases. There is no reason why two all-male student groups should hold an exclusive lease on some of the only social spaces at the college.”

Clark, on the other hand, opposes this view. He wrote, “I continue to fight to keep Phi Psi up and running so we can continue the work set towards educating incoming Swarthmore students and educating the masses about consent, bystander intervention, healthy relationships, and mental health. There is no addition by subtraction to be had here. We need to find a way to come together and address these issues instead of further dividing the campus and inciting more negative energy […] I don’t support the termination of leases, but the conversation surrounding on-campus party spaces needs to continue.”

Since Dieterich created her “No Donation Pledge” calling on alumni to refuse donations to the College until fraternity leases are terminated, it has received over 400 signatures.