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An Open Letter to President Benston: Swarthmore Protests

By SWOL Student Leaders

[Editor’s note: All opinions pieces published in the Clerk represent only the views and ideas of the author. ]

Content Warning: This article contains reference to sexual violence, sexism, racism, and homophobia.

Dear President Benston,

In light of ongoing news and events surrounding the violence and toxicity of Swarthmore’s Phi Psi Fraternity and Greek life as a whole, student activists in the tri-college community have called for action from their administrations. We would like to make it clear that neither Haverford’s physical separation from Swarthmore nor its lack of greek life can absolve us from a responsibility to take a stance against this violence. As students within the tri-co, we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with our peers at Swarthmore because the same types of bigotry, misogyny, and sexual assault affect us here. Further, the violence perpetrated by these fraternities is not isolated to Swarthmore, and the close connection between our three schools means that this violence is often enacted on students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr. The release of shocking fraternity documents is not so much a revelation as it is a wake-up call.

We know and experience the sexual violence, racism, and homophobia that occurs in our communities every day, and now call on you to acknowledge it. Specifically, Haverford must take steps towards prioritizing the safety of survivors and marginalized groups in the tri-college community. While the documents leaked to Voices are graphic,  this culture exists beyond the doors of Phi Psi, and beyond the walls of Swarthmore college. Swarthmore, Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and colleges across the country are living through violence and bigotry with radio silence from those who should be taking charge and inaction from those who have been forced to. While we applaud and stand with student activists at Swarthmore, it is also necessary to address the labor that these students are undertaking on an issue that should have long been addressed by their leaders. While students across the tri-college community are constantly pushed towards student agency as the mechanism for change, the colleges have consistently demonstrated that student agency only extends as far as their own agenda allows it to. It’s time to recognize that student agency extends beyond traditional and ineffective administrative committees, and the condemnation of these student protests represents a clear and shameful contradiction of the beliefs that the colleges were founded on.

We call on you, President Benston, to break Haverford’s silence. To condemn the allocation of community spaces to harmful organizations, the continued use of committees as tools to prevent meaningful change, and the prioritization of historically and objectively violent fraternities over care for survivors. To call for the dissolution of these toxic organizations, look closer at the spaces on Haverford’s campus where this type of violence is enacted, and prioritize survivors first and foremost. Your inaction is harmful and your silence is deafening.

In Solidarity,
Concerned Students of Haverford

[Editor’s Note: SWOL student leaders can be contacted at organizinghc@gmail.com. To publish a response to this piece in the Clerk, use the comment form below or email hcclerk@gmail.com.]

4 Comments

  1. Swat20 April 30, 2019

    Hi SWOL,

    I go to Swarthmore – the students who are protesting are unwilling to have meaningful discussions with the fraternities, administration, or anyone, and have been a nuisance for weeks. Giving support to them is currently a popular move among a small, vocal, radical minority, but also sets a dangerous precedent. These students will continue to throw tantrums over anything they deem a negative to their campus experience. By supporting them, we are legitimizing their course of action, which while non-violent, is illegal and radical to the point where even the administration is fed up with them (normally protesting receives an outflow of support from the administration). The administration has historically catered to groups like this, and outbursts like this are the result. And now they’re being harrased as a result as well.

    As someone who frequented the fraternities, I can tell you that the information swirling around at this time is incredibly misleading. These students are publicly showing a tremendous amount of fear towards a group of some of the nicest individuals on campus. And they are being labeled as brave for it. I have never experienced anything remotely close to the accounts written in the Swarthmore Tumblr, yet these individuals who have visited the frats a handful of times (if ever) have 100s of accounts to share. They have clear motivation to falsify or drastically exaggerate these stories, seeing as they’ve been one of the driving forces behind the movement.

    Step back and objectively view the facts, taking some of what is being said with a grain of salt. The “minutes” that were leaked are disgusting, but do not involve current students, and as I understand it are a very minuscule part of fraternity life per discussions with my friends in the fraternity. They were all sick when I asked them about what was being said, and their actions have never given any legitimacy to what is being leaked.

    This group is setting a dangerous precedent, and as a less-biased Swarthmore student (some bias given the people I hang out with but I also take an objective look at the protesters and have a feel for the magnitude of their fraternity experience) I would suggest you refrain from showing vocal support and allow the process to play out, especially you, President Benston. The support these individuals are receiving is hugely unjustified, and my sense around campus is that a majority still backs the frats. Don’t be misled by what you are reading in our school paper, and if you don’t have knowledge about the situation as it actually stands, please just let the process play out, the frats are doomed anyways.

    Swat Class of ’20

    • Your Haverfriend April 30, 2019

      Dear Swat20,

      I just want to warn you that you’re going to get clowned incredibly hard for posting this, and the fault is entirely your own.

      Love,
      A Concerned Haverford Student

      [Clarification from the editor: This comment was not written by Clerk staff of the recently-renewed “Dear Haverfriend” column, the naming similarity is a coincidence.]

      • More like, "Your HaverToddler" May 3, 2019

        Ah, so you’re one of them. The ignorant liberal who claims open-mindedness but is unwilling to engage in any meaningful discussion. If I’m getting “clowned” for writing a reasonably objective comment proposing another opinion on your sorry school paper’s message board, you must be just as bad as the Swarthmore toddlers. Understand that you have no knowledge of this situation outside of what you read in the Phoenix and other publications, which give no context, background, etc., and are essentially click bait used to feast on hypocritical liberals like yourself. Not to mention that all of these publications have an anti-frat agenda, making them objectively less-objective than my take above.

        “hc students” below seem a bit more reasonable about all of this, maybe you can try to link up with he/she/they so that can educate you on this word that commonly eludes student-clown-toddlers like youself: Reason.

  2. hc students April 30, 2019

    I understand where you’re coming from but it’s just a bit too ignorant in my opinion. Pres Benston stance not to say anything about the situation in order to keep things professional is 100% appropriate; if swarthmore itself did not make a decision on Greek life on campus it’s completely inappropriate for a president at another institution to just tell swarthmore administrators that they’re not doing a good job/ how to handle & run things correctly and properly. And while it’s great if students to protest it, administrators have to keep a certain degree of professionalism and this is simply not what you do as a president of the college.

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