"Dartmouth is a very appearance-oriented place," sophomore Becca Rothfeld tells me when I visit the campus in February. "As long as everything is all right superficially, no one is willing to inquire as to the reality of the situation. Everyone knows that hazing goes on, but no one wants to discuss it – just like they don't want to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, classism." She shrugs, apparently resigned to the situation. "People don't really talk about things at Dartmouth, let alone argue or get outraged about them."
This winter, in the wake of Lohse's op-ed, 105 Dartmouth professors, concerned about this entrenched mindset of avoidance, signed a letter condemning hazing as "moral thuggery" and urged the college to overhaul the Greek system. It was the faculty's third concerted effort to reform the system since the 1990s. Dissent, a signature part of the undergraduate experience at many liberal-arts colleges, is, at Dartmouth, common only to the faculty. "No matter what your actual 'Dartmouth Experience' is, everyone usually falls in line and says, 'Yes, we all love Dartmouth,'" laments English professor Ivy Schweitzer, who has taught at the college for 29 years. "It's really a very corporate way of thinking."
Within the Ivy League, Dartmouth is considered the most "corporate" of the schools, with a reputation for sending graduates to Wall Street and the upper echelons of the corporate world. Statistics show that roughly a quarter of each graduating class find jobs in finance and business – a figure many students consider low, given Dartmouth's prominent ties to its Wall Street alumni, who often come back to campus to recruit. "I've been at our house when a senior partner from a financial-services firm and a chief recruiter from someplace like Bain are standing around drinking with us as we haze our pledges," says senior Nathan Gusdorf. (In the kind of irony rife at Dartmouth, Gusdorf is an organizer of Dartmouth's Occupy movement as well as a brother in Zeta Psi, a house that was "de-recognized" by the college for 10 years after it circulated a newsletter in which some of the brothers promised to reveal "patented date-rape techniques.") "Presumably, you would find a lot of drinking and plenty of frat boys at any university," says Gusdorf, "but here, drunk frat boys are handed so much power right off the bat. People do incredibly bad things to one another here, because they know they're going to get away with it."
That attitude of inherent entitlement often carries over after graduation. "One of the few dependable ways into the one percent is via these elite feeder systems, like Dartmouth," says David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of Power Inc., which examines the influence wielded by multinational corporations in the global era. "These schools are about their role as networked conduits to the top as much as they are about education."
Or, as one of Lohse's SAE brothers puts it: "Having a 3.7 and being the president of a hard-guy frat is far more valuable than having a 4.0 and being independent when it comes to going to a place like Goldman Sachs. And that corporate milieu mirrors the fraternity culture."
On a warm February afternoon, I visit Andrew Lohse at his mother's house in Brattleboro, Vermont. Almost 22, he is a handsome kid with tousled brown hair and a polite, almost self-effacing manner. The aggressively preppy look he once favored – ratty Oxford shirts and Nantucket Reds, a style one of Lohse's former friends refers to as "go-fuck-yourself" fashion – has been significantly toned down. In the dining room, his Macbook sits on a table surrounded by legal pads, newspapers and books by Noam Chomsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jay McInerney. He's writing a memoir: a "generational tale" that he hopes will be part Bright Lights, Big City, part The Sun Also Rises and part This Side of Paradise, and describes as "a one-way ticket to the secret violence at the heart of the baptismal rites of the new elite." At which point he stops himself. "I bet that sounds incredibly douchey and brash and stupid."
Lohse is a highly self-aware young man who nonetheless came to Dartmouth filled with what he now sees as stupid ideas. His goal, he says, was to raise his station in life as much as his grandfather, a man of humble stock who became a wealthy banker, had done by forging powerful connections. "I read a lot of Fitzgerald before I came to college," Lohse says, "and I guess I wanted to be like that, like a character. I took the idea of creating an identity really seriously. But it wasn't really me. I'm just a regular kid from Nowhere, New Jersey."
In some ways, Dartmouth's own history centers on the concept of identity. Founded in 1769 by a Congregational minister, Eleazar Wheelock, its initial mission was to educate the local Abenaki Indians, a dream that was never realized. Instead, Dartmouth became a college for wealthy white boys who adopted the Indian as their mascot and "Wah-hoo-wah!" as their war cry. They also drank heavily: One cherished facet of the Wheelock myth is that he "tamed" the Indians with New England rum. "It's all a false sense of history," says Lohse. "But it's also very tied into this idea that by going to Dartmouth you're being 'tamed' and civilized and ultimately made into a member of the upper class."
Like most Dartmouth students, Lohse began his journey into this exclusive society just prior to the start of his freshman year, with a five-day wilderness orientation called Trips. This is a Dartmouth tradition, where students hike, kayak, mountain bike or otherwise explore the White Mountains for a few days, winding up at the Dartmouth-owned Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, or the "lodj," where they gather for a communal dinner, followed by song-and-dance routines, and they are even asked to sit on the floor and listen to ghost stories. "Hazed into happiness" is how Gusdorf puts it.
Lohse found the experience both exhilarating and disconcerting. "There is a very specific message you get on Trips," he says, "which is 'We're all your friends, you're part of this awesome new world of Dartmouth, and if you're not having the absolute best time of your life, then there's something really wrong with you.' You are immediately assimilated into this homogeneous way of thinking, where you can't see any of it as uncomfortable or weird, even though it is." One facet of the Trips experience is being served green eggs and ham in the "lodj" and reading Dr. Seuss (a Dartmouth alum, whose real name was Theodor Geisel). "It's like they reduce you to a child in order to remake you," says Lohse. "And then you're in on the joke. You go to one of the best schools in America and you sit on the floor and eat green eggs and ham... and you're going to run the world really soon."
Lohse understood that to enter this privileged class requires one to make the appropriate connections, and he immediately set about trying to forge them. As a freshman, he contributed to The Dartmouth Review, the college's staunchly conservative newspaper, founded by a group of young neocons in 1980. He also began to develop his "rush strategy" to prepare for joining a fraternity. "Deciding which fraternity to pledge is the most important political decision a Dartmouth man will make," says Lohse.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
MUSIC 9 Classic Devo Videos
OLYMPICS 18 Epic Opening Ceremonies
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus