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Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth's Hazing Abuses

A Dartmouth degree is a ticket to the top - but first you may have to get puked on by your drunken friends and wallow in human filth

March 28, 2012 2:05 PM ET

Andrew Lohse visits the Dartmouth
Andrew Lohse visits the Dartmouth campus where he has come forward to report on the significant hazing practices taking place at fraternities.
Antonio Bolfo

Long before Andrew Lohse became a pariah at Dartmouth College, he was just another scarily accomplished teenager with lofty ambitions. Five feet 10 with large blue eyes and the kind of sweet-faced demeanor that always earned him a pass, he grew up in the not-quite-rural, not-quite-suburban, decidedly middle-class town of Branchburg, New Jersey, and attended a public school where he made mostly A's, scored 2190 on his SATs and compiled an exhaustive list of extracurricular activities that included varsity lacrosse, model U.N. (he was president), National Honor Society, band, orchestra, Spanish club, debate and – on weekends – a special pre-college program at the Manhattan School of Music, where he received a degree in jazz bass. He also wrote songs; gigged semiprofessionally at restaurants throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; played drums for a rock band; chased, and conquered, numerous girls; and by his high school graduation, in 2008, had reached the pinnacle of adolescent cool by dating "this really hot skanky cheerleader," as he puts it.

That fall, he enrolled at Dartmouth, where he had wanted to go for as long as he could remember. His late grandfather, Austin Lohse, had played football and lacrosse for Big Green, and both Andrew and his older brother, Jon, a Dartmouth junior, idolized him as the embodiment of the high-achieving, hard-drinking, fraternal ethos of the Dartmouth Man, or what Lohse calls a "true bro." A Dartmouth Man is a specific type of creature, and when I ask Lohse what constitutes true bro-ness, he provides an idealized portrait of white-male privilege: "good-looking, preppy, charismatic, excellent at cocktail parties, masculine, intelligent, wealthy (or soon to become so), a little bit rough around the edges" – not, in other words, a "douchey, superpolished Yalie."

A true bro, Lohse adds, can also drink inhuman amounts of beer, vomit profusely and keep on going, and perform a number of other hard-partying feats – Dartmouth provided the real-life inspiration for Animal House – that most people, including virtually all of Lohse's high school friends, would find astounding. This, like the high salaries that Dartmouth graduates command – the sixth-highest in the country, according to the most recent estimates – is a point of pride. "We win," is how one of Lohse's former buddies puts it.

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."

Not so long ago, hazing was viewed at many universities as nothing but pranks, which deans might have privately deplored but nonetheless tolerated. Today, hazing is illegal in 44 states, including New Hampshire – and many colleges have aggressively cracked down on fraternity abuses. Those that failed to do so have increasingly found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Last spring, Yale became the subject of a federal Title IX investigation after a group of 16 current and former students accused the school of creating a "hostile environment" for women, citing a prank in which the pledges of Delta Kappa Epsilon, the same fraternity that boasted both Bush presidents as members, paraded outside the Yale campus chanting, "No means yes! Yes means anal!" Only a few months earlier, in February 2011, a 19-year-old Cornell sophomore died of alcohol poisoning after taking part in an SAE hazing ritual. In response, the boy's mother filed a $25 million lawsuit against SAE, Cornell shuttered its chapter, and the president of the university directed the college's Greek organizations to end the pledging process, effective fall 2012.

Alarmed by the skyrocketing rate of binge drinking, which studies show is nearly twice as high among fraternity residents, a growing number of colleges have opted to kick frats off campus or do away with them altogether. Williams College was the first to shutter its fraternities, in the 1960s, and many others have since followed suit, including Amherst, Bowdoin, Colby and Middlebury. But Dartmouth, whose unofficial motto is "Lest the Old Traditions Fail," has resisted that transformation, just as it has stood fast against many other movements for social and political progress. Dartmouth was one of the last of the Ivies to admit women, in 1972, and only in the face of fierce resistance from alumni. In 1986, conservative students armed with sledgehammers attacked a village of symbolic shanties erected on campus to protest South African apartheid. More recently, students assailed members of an Occupy vigil at Dartmouth, heckling them with cries of "Faggots! Occupy my asshole!"

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