Pres. Smith and Chair Shuchman: Which Side Are You On?

We dedicate this letter to every person who was harmed in the frats during the 2018-2019 academic year, during which President Smith’s ad-hoc committee recommended a year-long moratorium on dangerous frat life. President Smith rejected this proposal.

To the Swarthmore College community:

When Swarthmore College called the police on peaceful protesters in Phi Psi, we were reminded of Swarthmore’s long tradition of celebrating values of “dissent” while enforcing practices of “civility.” Many of us were personally targeted by the same administrators in the Spring of 2017. While sitting-in for fossil fuel divestment, the College cited students and threatened them with academic probation. We understand that these sacrifices come along with the work of nonviolent action, but a Quaker institution such as Swarthmore cannot profess moral clarity and climate action on one hand, and punish peaceful protesters on another.

Fundamentally antithetical to their professed values, threatening disciplinary action against protesting students is a long tradition at the college -- it is part of their strategy to divide students up so that we do not contest their power. But we think that it goes one level deeper: Just as fossil fuel billionaires buy out our politicians to prevent action on the climate crisis, fraternity alumni have bought out and consolidated power within Swarthmore College. Their exclusive claim to campus spaces is just one example of this.

Like today’s political class that chooses a privileged few over the well-being of all people, our administration has betrayed its professed values. In a recent email to campus, President Smith wrote that “at Swarthmore, civility and dissent must co-exist.” We agree: There is nothing more uncivil than a college that allows a “rape attic” to remain open. There is nothing more uncivil than a college that protects and enables predators. President Smith and Chair Shuchman cannot wait to act when these abuses occur under their watch.

The release of the fraternity minutes and the ongoing Tumblr account have made the crisis of fraternity violence indisputable, documenting the information that activists have shared with administrators for years. Indeed, administrators knew all along. Only now, when publicly confronted with their own negligence by the thankless work of hundreds of students, have they even begun to recognize their grave injury.

We do not need another task force or committee to decide what comes next--or for President Smith or Chair Shuchman to displace their responsibility onto. The student body knows that the frats must go. President Smith and Chair Shuchman have a moral obligation to immediately answer this call to action. Repeating President Smith’s decision last year--to authorize another year of fraternity violence despite opposition from her own committee--cannot be repeated.

Every single day that passes is another day that our leaders put students at risk. Sunrise Swarthmore unequivocally supports O4S and the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence in demanding that the College immediately ban Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, terminate the fraternity leases, and reallocate their spaces for the use and benefit of all Swarthmore students. We encourage all community members to join the ongoing sit-in in Phi Psi.

Sunrise Swarthmore