Dartmouth student blows whistle on fraternity hazing

Here and Now

Several high profile incidents of hazing are leading colleges around the country to take a closer look at the greek organizations on their campuses.

Earlier this month, five Boston University students were found in an off-campus fraternity basement in tears, with their hands tied and covered in welts. The BU chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi was shut down by its national leaders after that incident.

Four Cornell University students face criminal charges after a pledge was tied up and forced to drink until he passed out. He was left on a couch in the library, where he died. Cornell has vowed to revamp the fraternity pledging process starting next year.

Binghamton University in New York has banned fraternities and sororities from accepting new members while it investigates allegations of hazing.

Now this month’s Rolling Stone has shined a spotlight on hazing at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

Andrew Lohse, a 22-year-old member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, told the magazine that hazing is endemic at Dartmouth.

Lohse said the school, which served as the inspiration for the film, “Animal House,” has “a real blackout culture.”

According to Lohse, new pledges were forced to eat food mixed with vomit; forced to swim in a kiddie pool filed with vomit and other bodily fluids; and, forced to drink alcohol until they vomited, and then forced to drink again.

Lohse said he reported these allegations to the college administration, but his complaints fell on deaf ears and students shunned him.  He then became the target of an investigation on hazing.

SAE’s lawyer Harvey Silverglate told Rolling Stone the allegations against the organization are “demonstrably untrue.” Dartmouth investigators say some of Lohse’s allegations are true, but Dartmouth dean of college, Charlotte Johnson, says Dartmouth is a leader in dealing with these issues. Lohse disagrees.

Last week, the college gave Lohse’s fraternity, SAE, three years of probation. 

“Fraternity hazing at Dartmouth has gone on for such a long time,” Lohse said. “It’s been an open secret, but no one has really literally come out and enumerated what happened in their experience in their fraternity.”

Lohse said people are often ashamed of what happened, and attempt to justify the circumstances.

“That’s how the system perpetuates itself,” he said.

In an email, Lohse wrote, “The sanctions against SAE are a slap on the wrist and proof that the college just isn’t serious – and proof that these organizations can lie with impunity. The way the college has handled this is a strong message to the other frats: ‘Don’t worry. We don’t take this problem seriously like other schools do.’”

Lohse said the issue of hazing needs to be taken seriously. He said that it is not just a physical issue, but also a serious emotional and psychological one.

“It’s a highly organized form of bullying. It really devalues you. Through that process, you tend to think that you’re no good on your own, you’re only good as a member of this group, and that’s really dangerous thinking,” he explained.

Dartmouth alum and SAE brother Snowden Wright wrote an op-ed in the NY Daily News called “In Defense of Hazing.”

In the article, he wrote about a practice called  “pulling the trigger,” where pledges would force themselves to vomit in order to continue drinking. Pledges were not allowed to do it to themselves, so other pledges had to help them, he wrote. Wright said the process was, “like watching two kittens licking each other. Pure friendship.”

Another SAE brother told Rolling Stone that Wall Street recruiters would come to the fraternity to watch some of the hazing. Dartmouth is known for sending its grads to jobs on Wall Street, and therefore, he said, the corporate milieu mirrors the fraternity culture.

According to Lohse, these anecdotes are indicative of the fraternity culture at Dartmouth.

“It’s the same kinds of attitudes, you know, this attitude of the ends always justifying the means. Always protect the firm, or always protect the fraternity, keep the secrets,” he explained. “This culture is a breeding ground for people who go on into the broader “1 percent.”

Ironically, as the whistleblower, Lohse may have been the only one charged with hazing, because, initially, no other students came forward. Fortunately for Lohse, the charges against him and othera who were charged later were dropped. Charges against the organization were not dropped.

“What I’ve been trying to push for from the very beginning is a more broad-based reform. These hazing abuses happen at literally almost every fraternity at Dartmouth. My experience is pretty middle-of–the-road. We need to go after the organizations and push for a real structural systemic reform,” Lohse said.

Since Lohse has come forward, some have dismissed his allegations, saying Lohse is just a disgruntled former pledge.

Lohse rejects these claims.

“I don’t have any ill will against the fraternity or the brothers. I’ve moved beyond that. That’s evidenced by the fact that when those 27 individuals were charged, I wrote a long letter to the college expressing that I would not participate as a witness in this investigation that targeted individuals instead of going after the broader problem,” he said.

Dartmouth alum Arianna Duggan wrote in the Huffington Post, “Reform should come from students, not from school officials.” She said abolishing hazing would not solve Dartmouth’s fraternity problem. Instead, individual students must be held accountable.

Lohse said this kind of view oversimplifies the problem and ignores the realities of the social pressures and norms at Dartmouth.

“There’s such a great social pressure at Dartmouth, especially for men to be members of fraternities. To have any kind of social relevance, you really have to be in a fraternity,” Lohse said.

Lohse doesn’t think much change will come to Dartmouth’s greek system, even, perhaps if a student dies.

But at Cornell University, students, administrators and alumni are engaged in a process to change the way students pledge — mainly because of a student’s death.

The university president, David Skorton, promised to change the system  after sophomore George Desdunes died at a fraternity after hazing episode that included mock kidnapping and forced drinking.

The university has already taken steps to prevent fraternities from using alcohol as a recruiting tool, by banning pledges from attending any fraternity parties with alcohol. Only after they become active members are they able to attend those parties. The university has also said fraternities are only allowed to serve students 21 and older.

A committee is considering several options, like replacing the current pledging process with structured group activities or community service projects.

Whatever approach is eventually taken, Johnson said the issue is one that must be handled as a community.

“This is not about Mr. Lohse, nor is it exclusively about SAE. This is about what we’re going to do as an institution to make sure that we end hazing on this campus. We are openly saying that hazing does occur on Dartmouth’s campus as it does across the country. This has to be a situation where we tackle the issue as a community — faculty, students, the administration, and even alumni,” Johnson said.

Lohse believes that action must be taken soon, before an incident like Cornell’s occurs at Dartmouth.

“It’s going to happen eventually, and me saying ‘I told you so’ is not going to bring that person back.”

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