Silver Spring’s Amal Haddad helped lead the charge to force fraternities off campus at Swarthmore College
One night in April, Swarthmore College freshman Amal Haddad, 18, stood atop a stone ledge outside the Phi Psi fraternity house and prepared protesters to face police officers who were en route to the campus in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.
The police had been called by fraternity members as about 50 students participated in a sit-in at the house, protesting the conduct of fraternities on campus following the release of documents said to be connected to Phi Psi that contained offensive language and references to sexual assault. Organized by Haddad and a few of her fellow students, the protesters were prepared to inhabit the Phi Psi house until the fraternities disbanded.
“The fraternities were the only social [groups] on campus,” says Haddad, describing the group’s impetus to challenge the powerful position of the two fraternities among a student body of about 1,600. “We were all impacted.”
Haddad, a graduate of Albert Einstein High School in Kensington whose family is Jordanian, has activist roots that date back to her childhood. Born in New York City and raised in Silver Spring, she was always “very passionate about everything she did,” according to her mother, Fida Adely, a Georgetown University associate professor. “Amal was never one to be silent about something,” says Adely, describing Haddad’s early activism, which included founding a gay-straight alliance at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring and becoming a passionate advocate for Palestinian rights. “She’s never feared taking a strong stance when there has been an injustice.”
Haddad brought those convictions to Swarthmore in the fall of 2018 and became involved in the school’s political scene almost immediately. That September, during the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Haddad attended a vigil set up by Organizing for Survivors, an on-campus group of sexual assault survivors and allies. After the event, Haddad expressed her interest in joining the effort and was assigned a speaking role at an upcoming rally about the Kavanaugh hearings, according to Morgin Goldberg, 22, then a senior and one of the group’s leaders. “She did a great job,” Goldberg says of Haddad, who spoke passionately to about 60 onlookers in the center of campus. “She’s a super articulate, charismatic and powerful person. She’s still 18, but she is very thoughtful and very persuasive. She has a real presence.”
This past spring, after two campus publications obtained and released documents implicating both Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon, Swarthmore’s other fraternity, Haddad and a handful of Organizing for Survivors members formed the Coalition to End Fraternity Violence. According to Haddad, the group first tried to engage Swarthmore’s administration to address what it saw as a systemic issue that endangered the student population. “We interrupted meetings and went to offices, but none of it worked. Nothing changed,” says Haddad, describing the events that led the group to stage the sit-in.
On April 27, the coalition organized a group of about 50 students to storm the Phi Psi house, a building used for social functions but not occupied by fraternity members. Haddad and a smaller group of about 25 students set up camp in the house, sleeping in the building’s living area and refusing to leave until their demands were met. Police officers who responded monitored the scene, but did not arrest anyone, according to Haddad.
What was initially envisioned to be a one-day event turned into an almost weeklong protest that brought the campus to a standstill and garnered national press coverage. “I’ve never seen campus that united,” says Haddad, who estimates that more than 200 students eventually participated in the demonstration both inside the house and on its grounds. According to Haddad, the protesters also received support from professors who brought them food and held classes on the lawn outside the fraternity house.
On May 1, the Swarthmore chapters of Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon announced they were disbanding. “It was amazing,” Haddad says of the scene inside the fraternity house. “Everyone was laughing, crying and hugging each other. It was the most joyous environment you could experience.”
Shortly after the victory, Haddad returned to Maryland for the summer to work as a counselor at a Girl Scouts camp in Stafford, Virginia. While at home, Haddad received an inquiry from an external investigator hired by Swarthmore to examine the protesters’ conduct—a situation that is still unfolding. “It’s bittersweet,” Haddad says, reflecting on the entirety of the experience and the possible disciplinary actions she may face.
Haddad, who won the Fran Abrams Creative Writing Award for Montgomery County high school seniors in 2018, says she hopes to continue writing fiction and poetry, but the sit-in experience “solidified my view that I need to do something around social justice and organizing.”