Deception. Hummus. Sleeping Bags. How 100 Students Occupied A “Dank” Swarthmore College Fraternity House
More than 100 students took over Phi Psi’s fraternity house in protest after leaked internal documents revealed a culture of misogyny, anti-gay behavior, and racism.
The Phi Psi fraternity house at Swarthmore College was usually a hotbed for alcohol-fueled parties — after which fraternity members would brag about their drunken sexual exploits with women in the basement, according to leaked internal documents that revealed a culture of misogyny, anti-gay behavior, and racism at the frat.
Since April 27, however, there has been no sign of the fraternity brothers — including one member who resides in the bedroom upstairs — at Phi Psi’s house, located on the campus of the private liberal arts college in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, and known for its "margaritaville" weekends and paint parties.
Instead, the house has hosted parties of a different kind, including one for a campus magazine that publishes the work of marginalized students, and a concert for a student’s album about revolution and speaking truth to power.
And the fraternity’s basement — where a Phi Psi member once bragged about another member “pounding pussy” — recently hosted a student meeting about solar panel installations on campus.
Dozens of Swarthmore students — organized under the name Coalition to End Fraternity Violence — occupied Phi Psi’s on-campus house over the weekend, a tactic to urge the university to permanently disband Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, the only two remaining fraternities recognized by the school.
On Tuesday, they were successful: Both fraternities announced they were disbanding, leading to resounding cheers from dozens of students who slept, ate, studied, and worked to end fraternity culture at Phi Psi’s “dank” house.
Occupying the house is no easy feat. It involves a PayPal food fund, sleeping bag donations from the campus outdoors club — and lots of cleaning supplies.
Students managed to storm the Phi Psi house after someone got campus safety officials to open the building by telling them that a student had left something inside, Olivia Smith, a Swarthmore sophomore and coalition leader, told BuzzFeed News. The student then sneaked in several others through the basement door.
The college’s public safety department and the fraternity members called the Swarthmore Borough Police on Saturday to confront the protesters, but no arrests were made. However, a public safety patrol car has been stationed outside the fraternity at all times, students said.
When they first moved in, protesters described the Phi Psi fraternity house as “dank” and “gross” with sticky floors, filthy couches in the basement, and two “horrendous” bathrooms.
“It was like being in a cabin that had been rejected and was only used by drunk people,” Smith, 19, said.
Now, a giant “Close the 'rape attic,' time’s up!” banner hangs above a “welcome to Phi Psi fraternity” banner. The once “disgusting” bathrooms are sparkling after one of the students did a 4 a.m. deep clean Tuesday.
After the couches in the basement were dusted off and covered with blankets, protesters invited student groups to hold their meetings there.
Students scrubbed the floors of the main party room that has been transformed into a communal library of sorts, where Swarthmore students sprawl on blankets and pillows to study for their finals and complete their theses.
Meals include hummus and Chipotle leftovers from two fridges that are now well-stocked.
“We are notoriously studious,” Smith said. “A sit-in is great, because our protest involves just being in the space and doing what we want as long as it's nonviolent. Work is nonviolent.”
Smith said that the sit-in has been productive for her because she spends quiet evening hours in the fraternity’s party room studying and doing group projects with others.
The students organized after two student-run publications published Phi Psi’s leaked internal archive that detailed alleged actions by fraternity members recorded in meeting minutes and pledge tasks from 2013 to 2016.
In these redacted documents, Phi Psi members talked about acquiring date rape drugs for a party, made references about a “rape attic” and “rape tunnel” at Delta Upsilon, made rape jokes, wrote crude and graphic descriptions of sexual encounters, and had photos and videos of disturbing acts.
After the sit-in began on Saturday, Swarthmore’s president, Valerie Smith, suspended the fraternities’ activities pending the outcome of an external investigation.
On Tuesday night, both fraternities voted to disband themselves.
“The content of the documents released is unacceptable, and we understand the long-term impact of the documents on our fraternity’s culture as a toxic element that cannot continue to exist on Swarthmore’s campus,” Phi Psi said in a Facebook post Tuesday night. “The best course of action for all those involved is to disband the fraternity completely and give up the fraternity house.”
“We hope that our former house will provide a space that is inclusive, safe, and promotes healing,” the Delta Upsilon fraternity said in a Facebook post, announcing its dissolution.
The sit-in's organizers want to replicate their success at other universities and are offering tools and tips to student leaders to help them end fraternity violence on their campuses.
At one point, more than 100 people have occupied Phi Psi’s house, which is a little bigger than a volleyball court.
There are usually at least 15 students holding the house down at any given time, coalition members said.
Protesters singing at the sit-in.
The protesters are always well-fed thanks to a PayPal food fund that has more than $3,000 from donations by parents, alumni, and outside support. Students usually order takeout or do a food run to the nearby dining hall on campus. Supporters of the sit-in have offered pizzas, cakes, and leftovers from other campus events.
One professor donated food to the protesters, and another held his class on the lawn of the fraternity house to show solidarity with the protesters.
An environmental student group set up a compost recycling garbage system in the house that previously contained one garbage can in the basement.
Students sign up for hourly and night shifts on a Google spreadsheet and hang out at the house between their classes and day jobs. Protesters share articles and joke about fraternities on a private Facebook group with more than 200 members.
Every night, around 15 to 20 students sleep on tarps, blankets, and air mattresses strewn on the floor. The college outdoors club provided some of them with sleeping bags.
Gidon Kaminer, a 19-year-old freshman, has spent every night sleeping at the Phi Psi house since the sit-in began.
“It’s pretty comfortable, but [Monday] night it was a bit tight and I had to sleep at the edge of the room,” Kaminer told BuzzFeed News.
Whenever Kaminer used to walk by the Phi Psi house it used to “scare the crap out of me,” he said, describing it as “a dark, dank, gross building with a bunch of frat guys.”
He said the students wanted to show the college that the space — “abused” by a group who had exclusive access to it — should be given back to students “so we can make something beautiful.”
Even though the fraternity has disbanded, Swarthmore students are continuing their “indefinite” sit-in until the university commits to terminating the fraternities’ leases and reallocates the spaces for historically marginalized groups on campus.
“We need accountability and a formal commitment that these spaces will be intentionally reallocated, not just democratized,” Amal Haddad, one of the leaders of the coalition, told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday.
“The college needs to commit [to] ending the leases so the organizations can’t come back,” Morgin Goldberg, another coalition leader, said. “Even the fraternity members themselves made the right decision, so we think it’s shameful the college still hasn’t.”