Allegations of 'Rape Attic' Lead to Swarthmore Sit-In

Protesters want the school to dismantle its two frats
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 30, 2019 11:10 AM CDT
At Swarthmore, Volatile Accusations Against a Frat
Swarthmore College students sing during a sit-in at the Phi Psi fraternity house Monday, April 29, 2019, in Swarthmore, Pa.   (AP Photo)

Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania has only two fraternities, but protesters staging a days-long sit-in on campus say allegations of systemic sexual violence—including the existence of a "rape attic"—make it clear they must go. The latest controversy comes after two campus publications published the minutes of meetings at the Phi Psi fraternity from 2012 to 2016 that speak of sexual assaults and are filled with derogatory slams against women and minorities. The school has suspended all frat activities while it investigates. Details and developments:

  • The start: A handful of students started this Tumblr blog headlined "Why Swarthmore's Fraternities Must Go," reports Inside Higher Ed. Female students detailed their experiences, and it soon gained traction with more than 100 submissions.
  • The details: Campus publications the Phoenix and Voices separately published leaked meetings minutes in which Phi Psi members purportedly talked about their parties, sexual conquests, etc. "Keep up the hustle this weekend," wrote one member in 2014. "I want to see chicks’ Olympic torches doused with your seed.” The minutes also included photos and videos of women, apparently taken without permission, per the AP.

  • 'Rape attic': The leaked documents reference a "rape attic," apparently an upstairs bedroom. Swarthmore junior Maya Henry tells the Washington Post that as a member of a student-led organization dedicated to stopping sexual assault, she would regularly monitor Phi Psi parties. "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,” she says.
  • In defense: In a Facebook post, members of Phi Psi, which is not affiliated with a national fraternity, say they “wholeheartedly condemn the language" in the old meeting notes, "as they are not representative of who we are today.” They also point out that "all our current brothers were in high school and middle school at the time of these unofficial minutes."
  • School's move: Valerie Smith, president of the private liberal arts school with 1,600 students in Delaware County, suspended all frat activity and launched an investigation. "What is contained within those pages is vulgar and deeply offensive to all of us," she said, citing "the racism, misogyny, and homophobia described within them."
  • The protesters: They began a sit-in at the Phi Psi campus house Saturday. (It's mostly a meeting house, and only one frat member lives there.) They want the school to disband frats and scrap the two house leases immediately. “We’ll be peaceful, but we will stay put," says senior Morgin Goldberg, who reported a sexual assault by a frat member in her freshman year, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.
  • A deeper dive: Philadelphia Magazine wrote a lengthy feature about the school in 2014 headlined, "Rape Happens Here." It details how the school's efforts to resolve conflicts "in the best Quaker tradition" ran into difficulty when 91 complaints of sexual misconduct surfaced in a single year.
(More Swarthmore stories.)

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