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‘CLOSE THE RAPE ATTIC’: Swarthmore students occupy fraternity after disturbing documents leak

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‘CLOSE THE RAPE ATTIC’: Swarthmore students occupy fraternity after disturbing documents leak

Swarthmore College students sing during a sit-in at the Phi Psi fraternity house, Monday in Swarthmore, Pa. (AP Photo) By Allyson Chiu Allyson Chiu Reporter with the Morning Mix team Email Bio Follow April 30 at 7:10 AM For two years, Maya Henry regularly spent time in Swarthmore College’s two fraternity houses. Every week, the modest stone structures would transform into dens of drunken revelry as partygoers packed in sweaty rooms imbibed on cheap alcohol and danced the night away to a soundtrack of the latest Top 40 hits.

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Henry, however, never attended those parties by choice. Henry had a job to do

“Most days, my job was to prevent sexual violence and my job was to make sure that somebody wasn’t going to get harmed,” Henry, now a junior, told The Washington Post. The 20-year-old is a member of Swarthmore’s SwatTeam, a student-led organization that works to ensure safety at public campus events where alcohol is served

“I would sprint up the stairs that lead to the bedroom that’s referred to as the ‘rape attic’ because I knew that there was only one woman up there and a bunch of fraternity brothers,” Henry said

The alleged reference to a “rape attic” is just one of the troubling details recently revealed about the culture within the selective Pennsylvania college’s fraternities that was made public in internal documents leaked to two campus publications. Redacted versions of the documents, published earlier this month by the Phoenix and Voices , have since sparked fierce protests from students, including an ongoing sit-in that started Saturday on the campus located west of Philadelphia

Over the weekend, the growing outcry prompted administrators to suspend all fraternity activity pending the results of an investigation

The 116-page document reportedly came from the “historical archives” of Swarthmore’s chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, which is not nationally affiliated, and contains meeting minutes and details of pledge tasks. The document features graphic descriptions of members’ sexual encounters, including a reference to a “rape tunnel.” It also described their conversations about women, minority groups and sexual assault that were often peppered with offensive language, such as homophobic and racial slurs. The documents chronicled activities between 2010 and 2016, the Phoenix reported

“I absolutely condemn the language and actions described in the documents,” wrote Swarthmore President Valerie Smith in a Monday statement . “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.”

But for many students, the contents of the documents were not surprising

“It confirms people’s experiences,” Henry said. “It confirms the stories.”

Henry said the document was difficult to read in its entirety because of how “disturbing” it was

“It just made me remember the heightened anxiety I felt working there, trying to protect my fellow students and also trying to protect myself,” Henry said

A number of these experiences, which implicated Phi Kappa Psi as well as the college’s other fraternity, Delta Upsilon, were published in a Tumblr blog that was launched earlier this month called “Why Swarthmore’s Fraternities Must Go.” Now, the page features more than 100 submissions from people whose identities were kept anonymous. In first or second-hand accounts, writers described how they were allegedly assaulted at fraternity events or by members between 2015 and 2019. Other posts detailed instances in which members allegedly exhibited homophobic, racist and sexist behavior. (Names of fraternities and members were not included in the posts)

It wasn’t long after the blog went up that the documents were leaked, Morgin Goldberg, a senior, told The Post

“We realized that together it’s actually a pretty damning account of fraternity violence and harm,” said Goldberg, 22, one of the students who created the blog and helped organize the sit-in

In a statement shared to Facebook earlier this month, current members of the Phi Kappa Psi chapter said they “wholeheartedly condemn the language in the 2013 and 2014 notes, as they are not representative of who we are today.”

“All our current brothers were in high school and middle school at the time of these unofficial minutes, and none of us would have joined the organization had this been the standard when we arrived at Swarthmore,” the statement said

Dear Campus Community, We were made aware of two articles that are being released regarding unofficial internal..

Posted by Swarthmore Phi Psi Fraternity on  Wednesday, April 17, 2019 However, when Goldberg looked through the leaked files and compared them to the blog posts, which mention more recent events, she said themes started to appear. Though jokes about a bedroom in the fraternity house known as the “rape attic” were from 2013, people are still writing about “getting assaulted in the rooms or seeing their friends get assaulted in the rooms,” Goldberg said

Armed with the testimonials and the documents, Goldberg said she and other students took action earlier this month, demanding the college terminate its housing leases with the fraternities. Protests were held and meetings among administrators were disrupted. All the while, former members of both fraternities wrote op-eds in the Phoenix calling for the college to remove the chapters from campus. The college also has one sorority

Similar demands have been made against the fraternities in the past, but “never manifested in actually getting rid of these frats,” Goldberg said. Last year, a committee tasked with assessing campus culture recommended a moratorium be placed on the houses, which Smith decided not to impose

When it became apparent to Goldberg and other student activists that their efforts this time around weren’t yielding the results they wanted, she said they decided to push harder

On Saturday, a group of about 50 students “rushed in” to the Phi Kappa Psi house, and soon the group grew to more than 100 people, Goldberg said. The students took over inside and occupied the lawn outside the house, hanging homemade banners that said, “CLOSE THE ‘RAPE ATTIC.’ TIME’S UP,” and “END THE FRATS.” While they did not storm Delta Upsilon, located next door, protesters hung up signs outside. One spray painted bedsheet read, “STILL A RAPE HAVEN.”

The sit-in really came after many different kinds of direct action that seemed like they were still not working even though we were putting all that we had on the table,” Goldberg said. “The sit-in was our way to say, ‘Actually, this space is ours.’”

Swarthmore College students gather outside the Phi Psi fraternity house during a sit-in on Monday in Swarthmore, Pa. (AP Photo) Hours after the sit-in began, Smith announced the suspension of fraternity activities. She wrote that administrators had received unredacted copies of the files and were coordinating with an external investigator

Henry said the documents were necessary to get people such as administrators, professors and those with friends in fraternities, to be “moved to do something.”

“We had hard proof that somebody would take seriously,” Henry said

Despite the “win,” Goldberg said students plan on staying put until the college meets all their demands, which aside from the lease termination, include dissolving both fraternities and reallocating the houses to groups that have been historically marginalized by the institutions

The goal, Henry said, is to see the houses “get completely and radically transformed inside and out.” Henry added that it has already been suggested that the buildings be turned into spaces for first generation students or minority women and non-binary students

As of late Monday, a group of about 30 students were still inside the house and many planned to spend the night, Amal Haddad, a freshman involved in the protest, told The Post. The 18-year-old said the sit-in had drawn campuswide support, with the exception of fraternity members

“It’s really been a community environment,” she said. “It’s really nice to see this space sort of looking like what it could be in the future.”