Andrew Lohse, Hazing, and Kiddie Pools of Feces: My 2¢ on the Dartmouth Hazing Scandal

Frat boy turned whistleblower Andrew Lohse, looking wistful as he reflects on his vomlet-laden past. Pic from the Rolling Stone.

Like practically every other Dartmouth alum I know, I’ve been paying close attention to the recent dustup regarding a Rolling Stone article about Andrew Lohse, frat hazing, and kiddie pools of feces. I’m pulling together a presentation on my dissertation topic right now, so I don’t have time to put together a polished treatise of all my thoughts, but I do have some observations that I feel compelled to share.

  • I wish this was being used more as a prompt for self-reflection instead of a gut-level defense of all things Dartmouth. I wasn’t in Lohse’s frat, but I was a frat boy for just under a year (I depledged during my sophomore summer) and I saw a lot of the spectacular foulness and dehumanization outlined in the article. We know this stuff goes on, and rather than focus on kneecapping Lohse, why aren’t we concentrating on sorting out why we’ve let it go on for so long?
  • If you’re quibbling about whether pledges are bathed in a kiddie pool of shit, piss, and puke or “only” one filled with rancid smelling food that they’re led to believe is bodily waste, you’re missing the point. Yeah, the former is worse but even if the latter is true, is it really something worth defending?
  • It’s disingenuous to intentionally design the grossest, most bizarre rituals you can imagine, enact them year after year, and then shout “sensationalism” when they get reported. Hell Night and Sink Night are sensational events; they were designed to be so.
  • It’s not a denigration of the friendships you made in your fraternity to recognize that hazing is dehumanizing and frat culture at Dartmouth is deeply troubled. Good friends can be made in bad circumstances (war buddies, anyone?); this doesn’t justify the circumstances themselves. And mightn’t the real denigration of your (my) friendships be to insist that rolling in puke together was the only way to make them?
  • While on the topic of college friendships: people from most traditional four-year colleges tend to walk away with great friends. It’s a product of free time, coming of age, and a lot of young folks clustered in one place. Yes, a lot of Dartmouth folks made their best friends in frat houses, but absent Webster Avenue, you would still have best friends that you love and cherish. It’s narcissism to claim that Dartmouth friendships are somehow better than ones forged at other schools, and these implicit insistences serve to buttress the current, disturbing order of things.
  • You don’t choose your whistleblowers. I don’t know Lohse, but he certainly comes across poorly in the RS article. He’s presented as a grandiose, misogynistic drunk. This doesn’t mean what he says isn’t true. (I’ll vouch for at least the spirit of his hazing allegations.) Whistleblowers almost always come with an axe to grind. Speaking out often makes you a pariah so it’s unsurprising that it takes someone who is really pissed off to risk that kind of censure. In an ideal world, maybe the whistleblower would be a clean-handed pledge who quit as soon as he got a glimpse behind the curtain. This isn’t an ideal world.
  • In response to Gus Lubin’s assertion in Business Insider that “men of a certain age enjoy being hazed“: it’s true that some 19-year-old guys have the masochistic streak necessary to enjoy that kind of punishment (and that some 22-year-old guys have the sadistic streak to enjoy dishing it out). Not all, though. Incidentally, I was a pledge brother of Gus’ during my stint in a frat, and I remember lying next to him on a concrete basement floor while I was drenched in beer and water until my body temperature dropped to the point that I was shivering uncontrollably. I did not enjoy that, Gus. (To their credit, my frat brothers took me out of the basement and put dry clothes on me. The point of hazing, after all, is to humiliate, not to kill.) A lot of us didn’t like what we went through, but we went along because weren’t brave enough to assert ourselves. Even Frank Santo’s defense of Dartmouth in the New York Daily News–the most levelheaded I’ve read–admits “the fact that one night, in a dark fraternity basement, with what sounded like 1,000 voices screaming in their ears, [Dartmouth frat boys] closed their eyes and did something they did not want to do.” The social pressure to participate is enormous and while, yes, you can “opt out” of the dehumanizing activities, frat pledges are almost by definition searching for social acceptance, so most don’t. And do we really want to be putting the onus on people to assert their right not to get puked on rather than the other way around?
  • I loved most of the people I met at Dartmouth. Honestly. Most of my male friends–my best friends in the world–were in frats. I didn’t read the RS article as claiming we are all terrible, irredeemable louts like some did, but if that’s the perception people get when they read it, they should know that it’s mistaken. That said, here is why I don’t object to the article: if we really are as good as we say we are–and as I like to think we are–why the hell do we let this go on? I’m not defined by the fact that I allowed myself to go through Hell Night, but I am–and I should be–troubled by that fact. If the article makes us look bad, well, a lot of us acted pretty badly. We are better than that. We should do better, and when we don’t, our dirty laundry should be aired.
  • Re: Lohse’s potential punishment for hazing–I beg Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson not to discipline him. It would be profoundly counterproductive. Was Lohse complicit in hazing? Yes. So was I. So was almost every fraternity brother, practically to a man. It would therefore be an unjust application of the rules to single out one of the few willing to come forward and detail excesses, and it would send a chilling effect into the spines of anyone else who might be considering speaking out. The frat system interpellates all of its members into its bad behavior, and if you discipline Lohse, you give everyone even more incentive to stay quiet. Punish Lohse, Dean Johnson, and you become even more complicit than he was in propping up the system you seek to reform. Hazing is a systemic problem that is only going to be solved through honest discourse. If you suspend Lohse, you will be silencing a conversation that needs to happen.
  • An aside to Frank Santo: I know that you object to seeing all Dartmouth frat boys flattened into “power hungry money-grubbers, who, like blinking robotic hordes, attend college as part of our inexorable march towards financial dominance,” and think that RS “reduces more than 4,000 diverse undergraduates to the target of a cardboard OWS poster, written in glittery finger-paint by a babbling charlatan.” As a Dartmouth grad and an Occupy activist (see, we are complex) please don’t complain about simplification by resorting to it yourself. I like to think I’m not a babbling charlatan, and I’ve never once made a sign with glittery finger-paint.

All right. That’s my 2¢. I loved my time at Dartmouth, especially my last two years there after I exited the Greek system. I honestly do remember it fondly. But Dartmouth has some glaring flaws that need to be addressed, and knee-jerk vitriol targeted at Lohse won’t get that job done. What we need is self-examination and a willingness to change. When the old traditions are fucked up, we really should let the old traditions fail.

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