Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth’s Hazing Abuses
On January 25th, Andrew Lohse took a major detour from the winning streak he’d been on for most of his life when, breaking with the Dartmouth code of omertà, he detailed some of the choicest bits of his college experience in an op-ed for the student paper The Dartmouth. “I was a member of a fraternity that asked pledges, in order to become a brother, to: swim in a kiddie pool of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen and rotten food products; eat omelets made of vomit; chug cups of vinegar, which in one case caused a pledge to vomit blood; drink beer poured down fellow pledges’ ass cracks… among other abuses,” he wrote. He accused Dartmouth’s storied Greek system – 17 fraternities, 11 sororities and three coed houses, to which roughly half of the student body belongs – of perpetuating a culture of “pervasive hazing, substance abuse and sexual assault,” as well as an “intoxicating nihilism” that dominates campus social life. “One of the things I’ve learned at Dartmouth – one thing that sets a psychological precedent for many Dartmouth men – is that good people can do awful things to one another for absolutely no reason,” he said. “Fraternity life is at the core of the college’s human and cultural dysfunctions.” Lohse concluded by recommending that Dartmouth overhaul its Greek system, and perhaps get rid of fraternities entirely.
This did not go over well. At a college where two-thirds of the upperclassmen are members of Greek houses, fraternities essentially control the social life on campus. To criticize Dartmouth’s frats, which date back more than 150 years, is tantamount to criticizing Dartmouth itself, the smallest and most insular school in the Ivy League. Nestled on a picturesque campus in tiny Hanover, New Hampshire, the college has produced a long list of celebrated alumni – among them two Treasury secretaries (Timothy Geithner, ‘83, and Henry Paulson Jr., ‘68), a Labor secretary (Robert Reich, ‘68) and a hefty sampling of the one percent (including the CEOs of GE, eBay and Freddie Mac, and the former chairman of the Carlyle Group). Many of these titans of industry are products of the fraternity culture: Billionaire hedge-fund manager Stephen Mandel, who chairs Dartmouth’s board of trustees, was a brother in Psi Upsilon, the oldest fraternity on campus. Jeffery Immelt, the CEO of GE, was a Phi Delt, as were a number of other prominent trustees, among them Morgan Stanley senior adviser R. Bradford Evans, billionaire oilman Trevor Rees-Jones and venture capitalist William W. Helman IV. Hank Paulson belonged to Lohse’s fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, or SAE.
In response to Lohse’s op-ed, the Dartmouth community let loose a torrent of vitriol against him on The Dartmouth’s website. Lohse, it was decided, was “disgruntled” and a “criminal.” His “blanket and bitter portrayal of the Greek system” was not only false, complained one alumnus, “but offensive to tens of thousands of Dartmouth alumni who cherished the memories of their fraternities.” Another alumnus put it this way in a mock letter to a human-resources manager: “Dear Hiring Manager, do yourself a favor: Don’t hire Andrew Lohse… He will bring disgrace to your institution, just as he did when he embarrassed Dartmouth and SAE.” The consensus, as another alum put it: “If you don’t want to be initiated, don’t pledge.”
Though two of Lohse’s SAE brothers have confirmed his allegations are generally on the mark, the fraternity has turned on Lohse, portraying him as a calculating fabulist who bought into the Greek system wholeheartedly and then turned against it out of sheer vindictiveness. In a letter to Rolling Stone, SAE’s lawyer, Harvey Silverglate, labeled some of Lohse’s most extreme allegations “demonstrably untrue” and compared Lohse to the stripper who falsely accused a number of Duke lacrosse players of raping her in 2006. “Lohse is… a seemingly unstable individual,” Silverglate wrote, “with a very poor reputation for truth-telling and a very big axe to grind.”
This is not the first time that SAE has come under fire for hazing abuses, or the first time the house has closed ranks against an attack: In 2009, a member of the Dartmouth faculty accused the fraternity of making pledges chug milk and vinegar until they threw up. According to Lohse and two other SAE alums, the brothers agreed to deny the charges, and discussed in detail how to respond when questioned by college officials. This “culture of silence,” as some on campus describe it, is both a product of the Greek system’s ethos and the shield that enables it to operate with impunity.
“The fraternities here have a tremendous sense of entitlement – a different entitlement than you find at Harvard or other Ivy League schools,” says Michael Bronski, a Dartmouth professor of women’s and gender studies. “Their members are secure that they have bright futures, and they just don’t care. I actually see the culture as being predicated on hazing. There’s a level of violence at the heart of it that would be completely unacceptable anywhere else, but here, it’s just the way things are.”