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An Update on Recent Campus Events from President Smith

Cherry blossom in foreground

President Valerie Smith shared this message with the College community on Monday, April 29:

Dear Students,

I write today to clarify important, interrelated questions on the role and status of fraternities on campus. Specifically, I hope to distinguish between the investigation into the deeply troubling documents published two weeks ago and the nearly complete work of the Task Force for Student Social Events and Community Standards.

Investigation into 2013-16 Documents

I share our community’s outrage over the heinous documents that were recently published in the student press. Dean Jim Terhune expressed his thoughts in this letter to students last Thursday evening.

Let there be no doubt: I absolutely condemn the language and actions described in the documents from 2013-16. What is contained within those pages is vulgar and deeply offensive to all of us. The racism, misogyny, and homophobia described within them is antithetical to the values of the College and violates the student code of conduct as well as basic decency.

As I wrote two days ago, upon receipt of the unredacted versions of the documents, we have consulted with an independent investigator to determine whether any of the behaviors described in the documents are ongoing and whether any current Swarthmore students were involved. We will hold students accountable for such behavior. Thus far, though, it appears that the bulk of these materials predate our current students. I have suspended all fraternity activity pending the outcome of the investigation.

The Task Force

You may recall my letter to the campus community in October about the formation of the Task Force for Student Social Events and Community Standards and their subsequent outreach to the campus community and all alumni. Their deep listening earlier this semester resulted in their interim “What We’ve Heard” document [pdf]. The task force tells me they plan to have their recommendations to me by this Friday, May 3.

Any decisions that affect the entire College community must be made deliberatively, consistently, and in ways that reflect the values of our community. I plan to honor the deeply consultative and thoughtful work of the task force, which at my request has undertaken a holistic review of social life and the role of Greek life specifically.

I will communicate my decisions with all of you as quickly as I can. In the interest of transparency and clarity, I will share the task force’s recommendations document at the same time I share my decisions. While the recommendations will cover a broad range of issues related to social life, I know that the questions of fraternity leases and the future of Greek letter organizations are of foremost concern to many of you. I intend to resolve those questions unambiguously when I share my decisions on the task force recommendations.

Campus Protest and Unrest

This past Saturday afternoon, a group of students began a sit-in at the Phi Psi fraternity house, which continues. This building is currently leased to Phi Psi for one year, and the lease allows it to serve as a residence for a current student.  

At the start of the sit-in, Public Safety requested Swarthmore Borough Police to provide support and ensure a calm resolution. We were grateful for their presence. One officer arrived on the scene, assessed the situation, and left. Phi Psi later independently decided to call Swarthmore Police after learning that student demonstrators planned to remain in the house overnight.

Students have since stated they do not plan to end the sit-in unless the fraternity house leases are immediately terminated and the student resident no longer lives there.

Our Community

I appreciate the desire for an immediate answer on the question of the leases and other related issues. We respect the rights of students at Swarthmore to express their views and beliefs. We will also continue to hold students accountable to our community standards. At Swarthmore, civility and dissent must coexist.  

What we are experiencing in our community reflects many of the struggles we see as a nation. As concerning as these moments can be, they also allow us to grow. We remain committed to fostering a community that is open to self-critique and the recognition of one another’s humanity.

Sincerely,

Valerie Smith
President

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