It is also, for many, a social necessity. For a college town, Hanover is a fairly boring place to spend four years. Its one main street is lined with cute cafes and high-end shops, but offers virtually no student diversions beyond a movie theater. This leaves the fraternities, whose parties are open to all. Fraternities (unlike sororities, most of which are dry) also happen to be the only campus entities that serve alcohol to minors, which about 70 percent of Dartmouth undergrads happen to be. And the beer is free: Brothers pay for it out of their social dues, with houses sometimes blowing $25,000 per term on beer and other forms of entertainment. Roughly half of Dartmouth's 4,200 students may be affiliated with a Greek organization, but the other half takes part in the system by default.
In high school, Lohse had never been much of a partier. "I never drank before coming to Dartmouth," he says. "I mean, I cut school to go to a John McCain rally." But he knew he'd have to master his aversion to alcohol to gain any kind of traction. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the conventional definition of a "binge" is five drinks in a two-hour period for men. Dartmouth frat boys pride themselves on being able to drink six cups of beer in less than 30 seconds – it's called a "quick six," and requires a person to literally open their gullet and pour the liquid down. There is a YouTube video in which a Dartmouth student does this in less than 10 seconds, but even this feat may not be a record.
All of this binge boozing leads inevitably to binge vomiting. Puking and then continuing to drink – the term is "boot and rally" – is an indelible part of Dartmouth social culture, heralded by successive classes of students. "You're horrified at first, but then you get used to it," says Lohse. "There's a certain way of doing things at Dartmouth, and if you want to succeed, you just have to do it that way."
Lohse had been introduced to the Dartmouth frat culture in high school, while visiting his brother, Jon, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. It was in Sig Ep's basement where Andrew, then 16, first encountered pong, Dartmouth's signature drinking game, played with sawed-off paddles and "about five times as much beer as you play with at other colleges." Fraternity basements, legendary for their grottiness, are elevated to a whole new level at Dartmouth. Their precise pungency is hard to describe: urine, vomit, stale beer and sour food, all combined in layers of caked sludge, which emits a noxious odor that can linger on your skin for days. Lohse was grossed out. "I was standing under this dripping pipe, looking at people drinking this watery Keystone Light beer, and I felt cheated," he says.
But Lohse still desperately wanted to pledge. Since Dartmouth students can't formally join a fraternity until their sophomore year, he and his friends cruised a number of frats as freshmen, trying to decide which house to rush. Alpha Delta, the infamous Animal House frat, was pretty much out of the question, as were the other elite or "A side" houses on campus, since they recruited jocks and prep-school types who "would have seen right through me," says Lohse. In a way, he was relieved. Rumors about hazing abounded. One fraternity reportedly beat their pledges; another was said to place them in dog crates while the brothers vomited on them. Another frat ordered its new members to crawl between the legs of a line of naked brothers, "with, you know, their ball sacks flapping on their heads." A fourth was rumored to require its pledges to have sex with a frozen turkey.
That left SAE. it had a reputation as a somewhat louche, not particularly athletic fraternity for rich boys, who often wound up "tapped" to join one of Dartmouth's elite senior societies – frats within frats that offer a special inroad to the country's future movers and shakers. Lohse made SAE his first choice.
He wasn't a shoo-in, by any means. "Andrew was a polarizing figure from day one," says a brother. The more conservative members of the house were strongly opposed to Lohse, who had quit The Dartmouth Review midway through his freshman year and had gone to write for its rival, the liberal Dartmouth Free Press. This was heresy in the eyes of his Review colleagues, some of whom were also in SAE. "They came very close to dinging him," recalls an SAE brother. Lohse only received a "bid," or offer to pledge the frat, after several brothers came to his defense, citing his popularity with women. A friend recalls walking into Lohse's room one night to find a girl in his bed, alone, while Lohse was in bed with another girl down the hall.
One night in October 2009, early in his sophomore year, Lohse was studying in his dorm room when he heard someone pounding on his door. A senior stood at the threshold. "You and you," he said, pointing to Lohse and one of his roommates. "Blindfolds. Follow me. Be silent." The boys dutifully did as they were told, grabbing ties to wrap around their eyes and following the older brother down the stairs and into a waiting car. "Shut the fuck up right now!" a brother in the front seat barked, shoving a bottle into Lohse's hands and ordering him to drink. It was MD 20/20, known as Mad Dog, the toxic beverage whose high alcohol content – 13 percent – and cheapness has made it popular with homeless men and hard-partying college boys everywhere. Lohse chugged. The stuff tasted like Lysol.
The pledges were driven to a remote spot across the Vermont border, where they were marched up a wooded trail and into a clearing. A group of SAE brothers stood before them, lit by a tiki torch. "Who among you most deserves a bid and why?" they asked. Lohse looked around as 10 sophomores scribbled down on paper why they deserved to be chosen. Then a brother handed each of them a bottle of Boone's Farm Blue Hawaiian – a Windex-colored cohort of Mad Dog – and told them that whoever drank it the fastest got to remain. You go to Dartmouth, Lohse told himself as he pounded the Boone's. You don't lose.
Later that night, Lohse, now very drunk, faced a Review brother who had wanted to blackball him. The brother held Lohse's embossed bid card in one hand and a lighter in the other. Ten cups of beer sat on a table. "Do a quick six in the time it takes for this to burn," he told Lohse, setting the bid card on fire. "Go!" Lohse chugged, but was only up to his third cup when time ran out. Seeing his future go up in flames, Lohse vomited all over himself – at which point the brothers told him they were just kidding.
Lohse was given the pledge name "Regina," after the character in Mean Girls, in honor of his aggressive social climbing. During his seven-week pledge term, he and his fellow SAE pledges, known as "whale shits," were on call to cater to the whims of the brothers. Most of the formal "hazing" was reserved for meetings and challenges: Pledges would be required to perform endless "quick sixes," recite SAE's creed, "The True Gentleman," while lying in a kiddie pool full of ice, or take shots of mystery alcohol while being quizzed on arcane fraternity lore. (This same ritual, with the addition of tying the pledge's hands and feet with zip ties, led to the death of Cornell sophomore George Desdunes, the SAE pledge who died last February.) There were also "milk meetings," where pledges were asked to chug a gallon of milk in 20 minutes, which always resulted in plentiful booting. "You get points for how many times you booted on other people," says Lohse, who adds that the pledge trainers kept count while they sat on large throne-like chairs in a basement room. One brother recalls the night some of the pledges were served a scramble of vomit and eggs, known as a "vomlet."
"Andrew kicked ass at pledge term, did everything required of him and then some," one SAE brother says. But Lohse also began to complain, quietly at first, to a few sympathetic older SAEs. Why did smart, decent people who were supposed to be "brothers" have to do this to one another? Why did he need to debase himself like this just to belong to a group? Lohse, recalls one brother, "implored some of the guys to tone it down a bit. No one listened to him."
"Sink Night," when new initiates affirm, or "sink," their commitment to a fraternity, was particularly brutal. Lohse recalls the evening in hazy images: lit candles, blacked-out windows, a relentless pounding on the walls of the elegant pool room of the SAE house, where the pledges spent more than an hour standing in a circle around the pool table in total silence, as brothers burst in and out of the room, forcing them to down bottles of Mad Dog. Lohse remembers the intimidating feel of shirtless male bodies standing around him as he was interrogated in a brother's room, where he was ordered to drink three shots and recite SAE's three cardinal rules: What happens in the house stays in the house. Trust the brotherhood. Always protect your pledge brothers.
At last, he and the other whale shits were escorted to the basement, where they were formally baptized as SAE pledges in a kiddie pool filled with a noxious sludge. "By that point you are really, really drunk – which is the point, because if you weren't, you'd never get in it," says Lohse, who was later told that brothers had peed, defecated, vomited and ejaculated into the pool. His account of the kiddie pool has been almost universally contested by others who took part; according to an SAE brother, the pool was actually filled with food products like water, bread, vinegar, soy sauce, salsa and hot dogs. "When you mix all that stuff together, it smells really gross," the ex-brother says. "And when you're in it, you don't know what it is. We let the pledges' imaginations get the best of them." Lohse, for his part, hasn't backed down. "I know this because I watched them make the batch for the 2011 term," he says. "We were told they needed a few more guys to piss and boot in it."
Such rituals were not restricted to SAE. One student tells me that during his pledge term, the brothers in his house set up a tarp in the fraternity basement, covered it in vomit, and made the pledges do a "slip and slide." He loved it. "Everyone peed on it and threw in their chaw," he says. "I thought it was great. I did it 10 times. But I was getting kind of cut up, so the pledge trainer told me I really should stop so I wouldn't get too many infections."
Ritualized vomiting was simply part of brotherly life. SAE has a "boot room," which is essentially a bathroom where brothers in the midst of a rigorous game of pong can stick their finger down their throat – the term is "pulling the trigger" – and then resume the game. At some houses, pledges are not allowed to pull their own triggers, but must get a friend to do it for them. "It's all about the challenge," says one of Lohse's SAE brothers. A game that is played at nearly every Dartmouth fraternity is called Thunderdome, or Dome. The entire goal of the two-man contest is to make the other person drink until he vomits – at which point the winner "claims his right" by throwing up on the loser.
"You don't learn about Doming until you become a brother," says Lohse. "When you realize you're going to have to do this, it's really shocking." SAE, he adds, was never as strict about the "boot on his head" thing as other houses, though it did take place sometimes – "I've been booted on and booted on others," he says. (Another SAE brother confirmed, "Everyone in the house was encouraged to vomit on each other, but the act of actually vomiting on another individual happened only rarely.")
So internalized did these rituals become that even long-graduated brothers reflect on Dome, and other games, with fondness. "Seeing two friends pulling each other's trigger was one of the most glorious things I've ever seen in my life," says Snowden Wright, an SAE brother who graduated in 2004. "It was like two kittens licking each other clean. Pure friendship." I assume Wright is kidding; he assures me he isn't.
By the end of his pledge term, Andrew Lohse had vomited so much that the enamel on his teeth had largely burned away. But he was now a full-fledged brother, and he threw himself into fraternity culture, adopting an attitude that one former friend calls "the frat star who didn't give a fuck."
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