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

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Throughout his sophomore year, Lohse lived up to every facet of debauchery he could conjure, from hooking up with multiple women to making sure he was the last to leave the basement at 3 or 4 a.m. "There was a nihilistic quality to Andrew," says Aimee Le, a senior who befriended Lohse in his sophomore year. "The difference between Andrew and his fraternity brothers was that most of the other brothers would try to justify their actions to themselves. Andrew wouldn't even bother."

Hazing left its mark on some of Lohse's brothers; one confided to Lohse that he had sought counseling, haunted by traumas like vomlet. Yet that same brother later hazed the next class of pledges. "It's a vicious cycle, but it's how hazing works," says Lohse. "You accepted this was the culture at Dartmouth, and if you wanted to advance in the culture, you got with the program."

Brothers aren't the only ones injured by this unspoken pact around fraternity life. Sexual assault is rampant at Dartmouth; some female students say they circulate the names of men considered "dangerous" and fraternity houses viewed as "unsafe." Between 2008 and 2010, according to the college's official statistics, Dartmouth averaged about 15 reports of sexual assault each year among its 6,000 students. Brown, a school with 8,500 students, averaged eight assaults; Harvard, with 21,000 students, had 21. And those numbers are likely just a fraction of the actual count: One study showed that 95 percent of all sexual assaults among college students are never reported. In 2006, Dartmouth's Sexual Abuse Awareness Program estimated that there were actually 109 incidents on campus.

"It's depressing coming of age here," says Deanna Portero, a senior from New York. While Dartmouth has an equal ratio of men to women, she says, it often feels as though nothing has changed since the 1970s. Today, a girl who wants to play pong at a frat party can do so only if she plays with a brother. Not to play is prudish; to be someone's pong partner, though, "generally means you're going to hook up with him afterwards," says Portero. "And if you don't like it, 'Fuck you – don't drink our beer.'"

Nearly every woman I speak to on campus complains of the predatory nature of the fraternities and the dangers that go beyond drinking. "There are always a few guys in every house who are known to use date-rape drugs," says Stewart Towle, a member of Sigma Nu, who de-pledged in 2011 because of a number of practices he considered dehumanizing. He says some fraternities would remove an intoxicated person from their house before making a "Good Sam" call to campus security to inform them that the person may have alcohol poisoning. Dartmouth's policy states that there will be no repercussions on either the students who made the call, or the student for whom the call was being made. However, whoever gave that student alcohol could still get in trouble with the police – and in the case of a fraternity, this might result in a fine of up to $100,000. As a result, many fraternities tend to make sure the drunken person is well outside the house before calling security.

One senior, who I'll call Lisa, was "curbed" in this manner the second night of her freshman year. She'd been invited to a fraternity by one of its members. Thinking it an honor, Lisa enthusiastically accepted, and once she got there, she had two drinks. The next thing she remembers is waking up in the hospital with an IV in her arm. "Apparently, security found me in front of the house. That was my introduction to the frats: passing out from drinking, waking up in the hospital and not having any idea what happened." What she did notice were bruises that looked like bites on her chest that hadn't been there before. "To be very honest," she says, "I didn't really want to know what actually happened."

Dani Levin is the president of the Sigma Delta sorority, and a peer sexual-assault counselor. "I get calls almost every weekend," she says. During the few days I was in Hanover, she received several, including one from a woman who said she'd been assaulted, and then threatened by her assailant's fraternity brothers not to tell anyone.

Incidents like this are not lost on Dartmouth administrators. Last spring, college president Jim Yong Kim, an anthropologist, medical doctor and the co-founder of the international NGO Partners in Health, established an intercollegiate collaborative known as the National College Health Improvement Project to study high-risk drinking in the same way that Kim approached communicable diseases in Rwanda and Peru. The group is slated to report its findings next year. "We don't expect to have solutions," says Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson, "but what we will have is a ton of data and ways to measure the results."

For many in the Dartmouth community, this data-driven approach falls short. "I just don't see that working at all," says Joe Asch, a former Bain consultant and Dartmouth alum who is the lead writer for Dartblog, a site that covers Dartmouth politics. "It all makes for great PR, but this is about a group of college administrators who've all tried different approaches to a serious problem on their campuses, none of which have made a dent." Even more crucially, such initiatives are not directed at fraternity culture itself, which many see as the heart of the problem.

Besides, say many at Dartmouth, the chances that the school will actually change its approach to fraternities seems slim. Kim, whose three-story mansion sits on Fraternity Row, is a strong supporter of the Greek system; he has suggested on several occasions that fraternity membership may have health benefits, citing studies that show that people with long-standing friendships suffer fewer heart attacks. In a strange abdication of authority, Kim even professes to have little influence over the fraternities. "I barely have any power," he told The Dartmouth in a recent interview. "I'm a convener."

In reality, Kim is one of the only officials in a position to regulate the fraternities. More than half of Dartmouth's frats are "local" – houses that split off from their national organizations years ago, and are thus unaccountable to any standards other than those set by the college and their boards.

This autonomy, coupled with large endowments – SAE, which retains its ties to the national body, has, by one estimate, more than $1 million in a trust – makes the fraternities a potent power base. Kim's predecessor, James Wright, was appointed Dartmouth's 16th president in 1998 and embarked on a plan to end the Greek system "as we know it" by requiring fraternities to substantially go coed. In response, 1,000 irate students marched on Wright's house and held protest rallies in which they accused the once-popular president, himself a Dartmouth alum, of treason. "Judas, Brutus, Arnold, Wright," read a banner that hung from the window of one fraternity house. Wright declined to elaborate on the conflict, other than to tell me there was "push back" from both alumni and fraternities over his proposal; by July 1999, he had backed off. Instead, he implemented an infinitely softer set of reforms. "It was a whitewash," says Professor Ivy Schweitzer.

Kim – who was recently nominated by the Obama administration to head the World Bank – was initially seen as a potential challenge to the status quo. But instead, he's proven to be just the opposite. Not long after he took office, Kim met with Dartmouth alums and reassured them he had no intention of overhauling the fraternities. "One of the things you learn as an anthropologist," he said, "you don't come in and change the culture."

Throughout his sophomore year, Lohse ran, desperately by his own admission, for a multitude of political offices available at SAE. Yet with the exception of a short stint as a "rush chair," where he "sold the lie" to new pledges, hardly anyone voted for him. "He had a temper and a reputation of being kind of too big for his shoes," says a former brother.

 

"I guess it started to dawn on me that most of the SAEs didn't really like me," Lohse says. "And then I realized that I had been forcing myself to like them."

Lohse did become close with two popular seniors who openly flouted house rules by bringing cocaine into SAE, which they often snorted with Lohse in their spacious suite on the third floor. As with all fraternities, drugs were by no means uncommon at SAE, but coke had a particular cachet; one of the seniors most fond of the drug would promote it to his brothers as a sign of one's elitism. "He used to say it was the 'white-collar' drug," says Lohse, "where weed was 'blue-collar.'"

Not all members approved of the drug use, though. In May 2010, toward the end of Lohse's sophomore year, a straight-laced ROTC cadet named Phil Aubart caught Lohse and another brother snorting lines off a composite photo of SAE grads, in the house's pool room. Aubart called Dartmouth security, who notified the police. Lohse was charged with cocaine possession and witness tampering – a charge that he incurred for pouring a cup of beer on Aubart's door and allegedly spitting on him in retaliation. Other brothers, who considered Aubart a "snitch," destroyed a table he had built, peed on his socks and sent him threatening e-mails. Aubart ultimately moved out of the fraternity, severing his ties with SAE.

Lohse, who was still a sophomore, pleaded no contest to the charges and received a $750 fine. While the brother busted with Lohse went on to graduate, Lohse was suspended from Dartmouth for a year. "The hypocrisy in that bothered me," Lohse says. "We made bad choices, but I was doing drugs – I wasn't harming other people. There are aspects of Dartmouth's culture that do harm people, that are just corrupt to the core, and nothing happens."

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