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
by Janet Reitman
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!"
"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.
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."
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."
That November, living at home and angry over what he saw as the unfairness of his predicament, Lohse quietly visited the campus to report SAE for hazing. He had been encouraged to make the move by several friends and by his brother, Jon, who had quit his own fraternity during his senior year. Lohse met with Dartmouth's associate dean for campus life, April Thompson, and David Spalding, Kim's chief of staff, who was a brother at Alpha Delta of Animal House infamy. He told himself the move was in the fraternity's – and Dartmouth's – best interests. "I saw my role as a reformer," he says. "I would argue that making these issues front and center is a very positive thing to do."
Telling none of his friends or fraternity brothers that he was in Hanover, Lohse presented the school officials with a "dossier of fraternity-hazing and substance-abuse-related information." For well over an hour, he detailed his experiences and even named names; at one point, he showed the administrators a photo of his pledge class standing in front of a table holding more than 550 cups of beer, explaining that evening's mission: to consume all of it. Spalding, Lohse says, "was aghast."
But Lohse "still clung to the idea that things could be different without me having to be truly public" – in part, he says, to protect himself from the kind of retaliation Aubart endured after informing on Lohse and the other SAEs. Both Thompson and Spalding assured Lohse that protecting his anonymity would be "a priority," he says. "I thought I could reform SAE on the inside," he says. "I never saw it as 'narcing' on them."
Two weeks passed without word from anyone at Dartmouth. Just after Thanksgiving, Lohse e-mailed Thompson to follow up. He was told that, acting on the information he had provided about SAE's upcoming "Hell Night," the last and traditionally most intense night of the pledge term, the Hanover police were preparing to stage a sting operation in the hopes of catching the fraternity breaking the law. Lohse responded with a lengthy e-mail, arguing that focusing on one fraternity would do nothing to prompt a sweeping overhaul of the Greek system.
The sting, in fact, proved to be a failure: The cops had tried to bust the brothers in the act of hazing pledges in a public place, but all they saw that night was a bunch of drunken kids near a statue of Robert Frost, reciting the code of the True Gentleman. "We're not idiots," says an SAE brother. "The stuff we do outside can't be seen as hazing." Lohse believed the fraternity had been tipped off – and indeed, Spalding later told The Dartmouth that administrators had discussed plans for Hell Night with the president of SAE to ensure that the event would not violate the college's hazing policy.
Counseled by his brother and his friends, Lohse decided to force the college's hand by going to the media. On the advice of Professor Bronski, who had written for The Village Voice, Lohse even tried to set up meetings with reporters from The Boston Globe and The New York Times. But at the last minute, Lohse backed off. "I wasn't ready," he says. "A part of me still wanted to go back to Dartmouth and return to my fraternity and party." That winter he took off for Asia, where he spent a few months traveling with his brother and working for a small NGO in Nepal. He continued to e-mail Thompson, asking about the status of the investigation, but says she failed to respond. He also says he began getting his act together. "The longer I stayed away, the less I drank," he says, "and the less I felt like the person I was at Dartmouth."
Lohse returned to Hanover last summer, to prepare for his junior year. He also returned to SAE, where he was still a brother, even if one now tainted by a cocaine bust. "He told everyone he'd traveled the world and was a changed person," says a former friend. "But he was still drinking and smoking weed, still actively pursuing all the things that had gotten him in trouble to begin with." To some, Lohse still seemed furious by what had happened to him. "Andrew has the full weight of the law brought down upon him, gets suspended and gets angrier at something he had already been really angry about," says an SAE brother.
Lohse channeled some of his rage by becoming a columnist for The Dartmouth, where he took on subjects like Dartmouth's culture of corporate recruiting, describing it in one op-ed as having "siphoned off some of our great minds into a dead-end field that sanitizes the intellect, offers almost nothing to human society and conditions people to act in ways that are decidedly inhuman." At the same time, he clung, albeit tepidly, to his identity as a "true bro." Last October, right before fall rush, he wrote a column extolling the fraternal experience: "I must concede that, happily or tragically, many of my most poignant experiences here have dealt with fraternity life [and] I've been trying to come to terms with them all – and with how I let those experiences become too tightly entwined with my identity." His advice to those who pledged was to support one another. "Don't forget who you are and don't be consumed by who you think you are becoming," he wrote. "Trust me, the two will never be as distinct as you are led to believe."
But Lohse himself was spiraling downward. After being out in the "real world" and traveling in Asia, which he describes as an "awakening," he now had trouble taking Dartmouth seriously, with its petty fraternity politics and drinking culture. Feeling ostracized by his fellow students, he fell into a depression he calls a "toxic mixture of anxiety and alienation." Some former friends recall Lohse himself as the polarizing force: He would show up drunk at people's doors at 3 a.m., or spend half the night on a desperate search for drugs. "The problem with Andrew is he's always the victim, he doesn't take responsibility for what he does," says one of his former buddies. "But you always want to give him the benefit of the doubt because he's so charismatic. You get high with Andrew Lohse, and all of a sudden he's on a 20-minute tangent about literature and liberal politics, and he's fascinating and exciting to be around, and makes you believe that you can do great things, because he wants to do great things. But one by one, I think a lot of his friends just gave up."
By homecoming weekend, Lohse had descended to the darkest place he'd ever known. "The harder I tried to believe in it all, the more I couldn't, until I just cracked," he says. "I might have drank myself to death there, I just hated it so much."
The Thursday night of homecoming is SAE's annual champagne formal, which Lohse attended, already drunk on red wine. He then proceeded to drink almost two bottles of champagne, followed by lots of bourbon and multiple beers. By 6 a.m., most of the SAE brothers had passed out, and Lohse and some of the pledges took off for breakfast.
In the story he tells of this incident, Lohse was walking across the college green, near a roped-off area where the annual homecoming bonfire would be held the next night. As he cut across the "restricted area," a campus security guard ordered the boys to leave. What followed was, depending on one's reading, a profound expression of drunken entitlement, or "an existential act of rebellion," as Lohse maintains. "I can walk wherever I want to walk," he told the guard. Then he picked up a plastic folding chair and tossed it in her direction.
Lohse was escorted to the college infirmary and given a Breathalyzer, which registered his blood-alcohol level at 0.24 – three times the legal limit. Arrested for disorderly conduct, he was handcuffed and taken to the county jail. Sitting on a bench, waiting for his mother, he considered what had become of the overachieving boy who followed his grandfather to the Ivy League. Whatever the true nature of the Dartmouth Man, he had consumed what remained of Andrew Lohse.
The week after his arrest, Lohse withdrew from Dartmouth on "medical leave," an indeterminate timeout often taken by students with eating disorders or drug or alcohol problems. "The day I left, I said goodbye to a guy I thought was one of my best friends, and told him I had a problem," Lohse recalls. "He told me with the way everyone drinks, he had no way to tell who had an alcohol problem." Back at his mother's house, Lohse enrolled in an outpatient rehab program. By Christmas, he'd recovered sufficiently to decide that he was ready to take the action his brother and friends had long advocated. "It didn't feel right until I tried to close my eyes to everything I knew and realized it was impossible," he says. "I just wasn't afraid of the backlash any longer."
The idea of an editorial came slowly; Lohse wrote between 15 and 20 drafts. Finally, one day in January, he sat down and "just crushed it out." After submitting it to his editors, who fact-checked his allegations thoroughly, he phoned his three closest brothers at SAE. One never returned his call. The second was terrified about what his parents and future employer might think – he had just secured a job at a leading Wall Street firm. But the third turned on Lohse. "He launched into a tirade about how I was a traitor," Lohse recalls.
Lohse tried to calm the brother down. "Do you think all the stuff the house did, like the vomlet, was good?" he asked. "Or beneficial?"
The brother became even more enraged. "I ate the vomlet!" he yelled. "I made other pledges eat it! That's brotherhood!"
In the months since he wrote his article, Lohse has virtually lost all of his Dartmouth friends. "I felt like an idiot because I'd defended him," says one brother in a rival fraternity, "and here he was, throwing it back in our face." Even those most sympathetic to Lohse's position wished it had been someone else who had come forward. "The problem is, it's Andrew Lohse who said this," says one Alpha Delta brother, a well-adjusted varsity athlete with a guilty conscience. "Some of the stuff we do is really disturbing and unnecessary, and we do need to put an end to it. But if a less-controversial figure had been the one to stand up and say something, maybe it could actually happen."
But whistle-blowers are almost always complex, often compromised outliers. And while moral outrage surely plays a large part in a whistle-blower's decision to come forward, so may a combination of anger, revenge, hurt feelings, opportunism or financial benefit. The question, ultimately, is whether their questionable motivations or checkered past make their words any less credible.
"One step toward redemption is making amends," says Bill Sjogren, a 1967 graduate of Dartmouth. Now a financial manager, Sjogren played football and baseball at Dartmouth and was a brother at the now-defunct Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. He is also a recovering alcoholic who says he learned to drink at Dartmouth. Sjogren resides in the Hanover area, where, in his spare time, he counsels students with substance-abuse issues. "No one has physically died at Dartmouth, yet, but the system destroys the souls of hundreds of students every year," he says. "It's just beaten out of you. If you take your academics seriously, you're not one of us. If you complain, you're exiled – like Andrew Lohse. For a Dartmouth kid to do what he did, he had to have been broken and hit bottom before he could break the code of silence."
On February 22nd, his 22nd birthday, Lohse received a call from Dartmouth's office of judicial affairs, informing him that, based on information he'd provided the college, they were pursuing charges against him for hazing. The college has also charged 27 other members of SAE, stemming from events in the 2011 pledge term. While the other students all categorically deny doing anything illegal, the information that Lohse provided to Dartmouth officials may directly implicate him in hazing. As a result, Lohse – the only student to come forward voluntarily – may be the only student who is ultimately punished. Coupled with the chair-throwing incident, the charges could get him expelled from Dartmouth. "I told them the unabridged truth, and they got me to incriminate myself," he says. "I understand that no one is above the rules, but none of this would have even been possible if I hadn't spoken out in the first place."
When I ask Dartmouth's new dean of the college, Charlotte Johnson, about charging a whistle-blower with the crimes he exposed, she rejects the characterization. "That's an inappropriate analogy," she says. "Andrew does not have clean hands. When someone comes forward and admits wrongdoing, it's not an automatic grant of immunity. We investigate, and the investigation goes where it goes. And the outcome will be what it is."
Dartmouth has recently formed a new task force on hazing, the most recent addition to the multiple committees already addressing problems on campus. The question is, given how the school has treated Lohse, will anyone ever come forward and speak truthfully about the culture of abuse and degradation perpetrated by the fraternity system? Lohse doubts it. "The message this sends is, 'Keep your fucking mouth shut.' And that's pathetic," he says. "If someone dies in a hazing incident next year, my saying 'I told you so' is not going to bring that person back. It's not inconceivable that it could happen – people get hurt all the time at Dartmouth. But no one will ever talk again."
This story is from the April 12th, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.