Rolling Stone article targets College culture
By Sophia Johnston
Published on Thursday, March 29, 2012
An article in Rolling Stone titled “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy,” addressing allegations of hazing at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity made by Andrew Lohse ’12, has been published in the April 12 edition of the magazine, released online on Wednesday. While many students interviewed by The Dartmouth expressed displeasure with Rolling Stone contributing editor Janet Reitman’s representation of Dartmouth culture, some said they recognized that the article would provoke discussion about important issues addressed in the article, such as sexual assault and hazing.
Reitman’s piece includes a timeline of the events that led to Lohse’s January opinion column in The Dartmouth, as well as Reitman’s description of Dartmouth’s Greek system and its relationship to hazing. The article relies on Lohse as its primary source but also includes interviews with several current students, professors and alumni.
Lohse said that his relationship to the Dartmouth Greek system began with his older brother, a Dartmouth alumnus who was a member of a fraternity and whom Lohse highly admired. After arriving at Dartmouth and pledging a fraternity, Lohse told Reitman he expressed concerns about several activities with which he felt uncomfortable but never received a positive response from SAE members. During a one-year suspension from the College resulting from two criminal charges, Lohse brought his concerns to the attention of administrators and eventually described his experiences within the pages of The Dartmouth.
Reitman’s article characterizes the College as the “most insular school in the Ivy League,” where “fraternities essentially control the social life” and criticism of Greek life is equivalent to “criticizing Dartmouth itself.” Reitman describes the “rampant” nature of sexual assault, closely linked to “predatory” fraternities.
Citing the College’s recent charges against 27 SAE members — 24 of which have now been dropped — Reitman questioned the possibility of future open dialogue in an interview with The Dartmouth, particularly “given how the school has treated Lohse.”
Reitman contacted Lohse via email after the publication of his column, Lohse said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Although sexual assault and hazing occur on many college campuses, Reitman said she took a particular interest in Dartmouth, where problems are magnified due to the large influence of fraternity culture. Lohse’s allegation raised interesting questions, she said.
“Dartmouth produces important people who will go on to do great things,” Reitman told The Dartmouth. “Dartmouth is known for producing a certain type of leader, known for Wall Street, powerful financial figures, and if you look at their background, many have been involved in fraternities. I wanted to ask, ‘What kind of kids is this culture producing?’”
Lohse said he considered Rolling Stone’s journalistic style in choosing to work with Reitman on the story.
“Longer-form journalism that will reach a lot of people is a great way to get the story out,” Lohse said. “There’s a great tradition of real quality journalism that holds powerful institutions accountable at that magazine in particular.”
Reitman conducted her research for the article over the course of two trips to Dartmouth — the first lasting five days and the second spanning Winter Carnival weekend — during Winter term. During this time, she interviewed approximately 30 students, only a few of whom agreed to speak on the record. One student to whom Reitman was introduced accompanied her to a fraternity, and though its members were initially friendly, they asked Reitman to leave once they discovered her identity, she said.
Interviewed students complained that limited forums exist for discussion or change, while many others declined interview requests. She said she also attempted to speak to administrators but received limited response.
“One of the common complaints I heard during discussions with students is that the administration is far more concerned with protecting Dartmouth’s reputation than with directly addressing the core problems that exist on campus,” she said. “After two visits to campus and dozens of interviews, I didn’t feel this criticism was unjust.”
The article relied heavily on “hearsay and sensationalism” in response to “challenging and complex problems on U.S. campuses,” Dartmouth College Director of Media Relations Justin Anderson said in a statement to The Dartmouth.
“It is regrettable that Rolling Stone has failed to see that Dartmouth is a vibrant, diverse community, and instead reduced it to a one dimensional, inaccurate caricature,” Anderson said.
An article such as the one published in Rolling Stone, however, could contribute to discussions regarding social issues, according to Lohse.
While Lohse said he could not comment on the article’s potential effects on nationwide hazing discussions or the College community, he said his own focus is not on the national perspective.
SAE president Michael Fancher ’13 said Reitman’s article omits the positive aspects of Greek life and efforts for reform.
“[Lohse] never demonstrated any desire to have a role in the reforms SAE is introducing regarding the way in which we conduct our new member activities,” Fancher said.
Aimee Le ’12, who was interviewed for Reitman’s article, said she believes the article will force both students and administrators to answer questions about College culture.
“I hope the College will take this in a broader sense as an indication that there is something questionable about the culture in general,” she said. “Not just the fraternity culture, but the foundations of the school and what it means to have an intellectual and educational environment.”
The article raises many issues that need to be examined by the community, including hazing, Student Body President Max Yoeli ’12 said.
“Hazing is a collective problem because it implicates the rest of the house, which is why people are more reluctant to talk about it,” he said.
The issues the article addresses — including hazing, sexual assault and alcohol abuse — are clouded by Lohse’s personal narrative, according to Yoeli.
“The article almost reads as a presumption that there is black and white, good and bad,” he said. “It did not convey the true picture of Dartmouth College and oversimplifies the nuances of many personal interactions that occur on campus.”
Yoeli said the issues raised by the “sensational piece” would have been better tackled by a male leader in the Greek community openly addressing the existence of problems within the Greek system, gathering the “right kind of attention” rather than ridicule.
Of the 50 students approached by The Dartmouth on Wednesday, 75 percent had read or were aware of the article’s content. Several were reluctant to speak on the record and many refused to comment.
Gillian O’Connell ’15 said that while many students may be upset by the article, it still points to “elements of truth” about Dartmouth culture, which “revolves around drinking and social life.” In order to address social issues, students must remember the reasons they chose to attend Dartmouth, including the desire to “make a difference.”
James Rascoff ’15 said that Dartmouth’s elitism is drastically overstated in the article.
“I think it was an opinion piece — not a single positive thing was said about the school,” Rascoff said. “Dartmouth has been demonized. Hazing exists on countless college campuses and because of this ‘whistleblower,’ Dartmouth will receive all the negative press.”
Lohse received no monetary compensation for his involvement in the Rolling Stone piece and has not profited from other interviews he has given or writing he has published, according to Lohse and Reitman.
Staff writers Ashley Ulrich and Leslie Ye contributed reporting to this article.