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Collective Reflection

In May, President Valerie Smith announced that fraternities and sororities would no longer exist at the College, noting that “exclusive, dues-paying social organizations no longer effectively meet the needs of our residential liberal arts environment.” 

She added that a reflective series of conversations among students, staff, and faculty will begin this fall to discuss the relationship between academic and cocurricular priorities and programming at Swarthmore. Those conversations will be led by Vice President and Dean of Students Jim Terhune and Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton.

“The struggles we have faced [as a community] offer an opportunity for self-reflection and growth, for movement towards, rather than away from, each other,” Smith said. Her decision followed the yearlong efforts of a task force that examined student life generally and Greek letter organizations specifically. Toward the end of that process, several student protests took place that were, in part, a reaction to disturbing and misogynistic documents from 2012–16 that were published in student publications and appear to have originated from Swarthmore’s Delta Upsilon and Phi Psi chapters.

“I recognize that serious fissures in our community remain open,” Smith wrote May 10 in a community message that was sent to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents. “As we move forward, I call for each of us to examine how we live up to the aspiration of inclusivity. We must try to do so together, without giving up on one another and without giving up on our community.”

Smith noted that the voluntary disbanding of Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon on April 30 reflected “a broader change in student needs and desires.” The Swarthmore chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority will continue with its current members through spring 2022 but may no longer recruit or initiate additional members.

“The big takeaway from the challenging moments and difficult conversations we have experienced over the last year,” said Terhune, “is that the systems and structures that shape social life on campus have not evolved in the ways that are required to best meet the needs of current students. It is evident that we need to engage all students in shaping a rich and rewarding campus culture that is truly equitable and inclusive.”

Following her decisions—which included other measures to bolster student social life—Smith met with the campus community at a forum May 13 at Bond Memorial Hall. The forum was planned as a listening session where Smith, Terhune, and others could gather information on some of the most pressing concerns as a result of the closures.

Among those issues were the long-term plans for the two former fraternity houses. As Smith stated at the forum, the future use of the now-closed houses is yet to be decided.

“We will begin this summer to determine how those spaces might integrate with plans for a re-imagined Sharples,” Smith wrote in her community message, noting the College is at a critical moment as it envisions new social gathering spaces as part of the Sharples Dining and Community Commons project. “We will then work with students and other community stakeholders to identify how we can best support students’ needs, including the future of those buildings.”

Above all, Smith encouraged the community to listen to one another. “Practice the art of deep listening,” she said. “Do not accept division. Remain in difficult conversations, especially with those with whom we disagree. This work will not be easy, but we will all be the better for it.”