Lohse: Telling the Truth
By Andrew Lohse, Contributing Columnist
Published on Wednesday, January 25, 2012
We attend a strange school where a systemic culture of abuse exists under a college president who has the power and experience to change what can only be described as a public health crisis of the utmost importance: the endemic culture of physical and psychological abuse that occupies the heart of Dartmouth’s Greek community. President Jim Yong Kim’s sterling credentials in public health are fundamentally at odds with the pervasive hazing, substance abuse and sexual assault culture that dominates campus social life.
I understand these problems because I myself have endured them. If I were to fully enumerate all of the dehumanizing experiences my friends and I have survived here — experiences that were ironically advertised to us as indispensable elements of the “Dartmouth Experience” — I would have too few words left in this column to adequately explain how the Kim administration has not done enough to address these crises. They have yet to take decisive action to diagnose and cure the abuse that plagues Dartmouth.
I was a member of a fraternity that asked pledges, in order to become a brother, to: swim in a kiddie pool full 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 beers poured down fellow pledges’ ass cracks; and vomit on other pledges, among other abuses. Certainly, pledges could have refused these orders. However, under extreme peer pressure and the desire to “be a brother,” most acquiesced. While not every pledge is asked to do these things, many are. The specific tasks vary year to year, but these are things I’ve witnessed as a member of the fraternity.
As a pledge, I ceased to be a human being; instead, I became “whale shit.” In the process, I, my fellow pledges and all pledges since, have been implicitly encouraged to treat Dartmouth women with about the same respect with which we treated each other in our social spaces: none. Fraternity life is at the core of the College’s human and cultural dysfunctions.
I have also talked with fellow brothers who have privately expressed dismay and sometimes emotional or psychological pain about their experiences but have been unable to break the cycle of abuse they had been so tortured by; they participate in the rituals year to year. It is a cycle that, as I myself have experienced, is difficult to break even after deep introspection. 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 other for absolutely no reason. There is an intoxicating nihilism at the center of our culture that fraternities perpetuate through pathological lies while continuing the abuses. Sadly, I have learned this through my experiences dealing with my former fraternity.
The truth is that my experience is not the exception, but rather the norm. The administration is fully aware of what goes on in our basements; I know this because I have had frank conversations with several high-level administrators. This column should not be a surprise to Dr. Kim, since it was David Spalding and April Thompson with whom I initially met and shared the troubling, graphic story of my experience as a Dartmouth man, replete with related media and places and times of future acts of hazing. Not enough was done: Hanover Police and the fraternity’s national organization were alerted, but the Hanover Police Department investigation only included an event that occurred outside of the house and was inconclusive. The national organization voiced strong complaints to two members over the summer — a development in July that seemed to me to be positive — but did not follow up its words with any kind of action or investigation.
And then the College’s action ended there. The administrators with whom I spoke claimed that they could do nothing more because I had asked to remain anonymous. I find that claim hard to believe. During my pledge term, the house came under serious scrutiny for hazing due to a tip trifling in comparison to the information I had provided them: In this case, a professor overheard two pledges in his class discussing vomiting milk. That inquiry involved interviews of pledges, who, at the suggestion of the house’s officers, offered preconceived, false denials.
It is my sincere hope that the administration can summon the courage to once and for all address the hazing and attendant assault culture that define the Greek experience at Dartmouth. The Greek system cannot continue this course, at my former fraternity or at others — its culture requires extensive oversight and restructuring.
Perhaps the College could begin by finally withdrawing its recognition of fraternities that brazenly flout the law, College policy and basic human decency. Perhaps Greek life could be integrated as coeducational, if not suspended indefinitely until a suitable, positive alternative is devised. A residential college system would uphold Dartmouth’s rich social tradition while respecting the humanity of students in a way that current Greek life does not. Systems similar to these have been implemented with great success at Dartmouth’s peer institutions.
I know firsthand that we need real change that addresses the causes of our culture of disrespect; we also need to forgive each other, forgive ourselves and have courage. We can end the abuse. It is a small college, but there are those of us who feel the need to tell the truth about it.