Hazing allegation leads to Dartmouth task force
HANOVER — A shocking public allegation of fraternity hazing at Dartmouth College has led to the formation of a task force to tackle the issue.
“It's something we are going forward with, but it's all coming together right now,” said Justin Anderson, director of media relations. “This is coming together for a number of reasons.”
In a Jan. 25 column in the student newspaper, The Dartmouth, senior Andrew Lohse laid bare his firsthand accounts of hazing as a former member of a Greek fraternity on campus.
“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; … chug cups of vinegar, which in one case caused a pledge to vomit blood; 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,” Lohse wrote. “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.”
In his column, Lohse expressed disappointment with the college administration led by President Jim Yong Kim.
“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.”
Lohse's column was followed up by a Jan. 30 column by fellow Dartmouth senior Dani Levin, who is also the president of Sigma Delta sorority.
“We are all aware of what goes on to an extent. To act surprised by Lohse's most recent account is to commit an act of supreme self-delusion. We have all had that friend who pledged a house and morphed into a different beast entirely, quicker than you can say ‘Mr. Hyde.' ”
In her column, Levin calls on the college administration to take action and for fraternity and college donors to stop funding the bad behavior.
“Houses continue to come back from the brink, to evade infractions based on technicalities, to return after being banned. When we renege on our word and excuse what we have previously deemed inexcusable, what sort of message does that send to students? … What incentive is there to change our behavior if we never need to worry that our hazing, or sexual assaults, will result in permanent consequences? Alumni, stop pouring money into your houses and the College if we continue to behave irresponsibly,” she wrote.
In reaction to dialogue created on campus, 106 faculty members responded this week with an open letter to students and faculty, condemning hazing.
“This culture of violence is, to a large degree although not exclusively, based in the Greek system. It contributes to the verbal and physical harassment of women, LGBT people, and people of color on this campus. It is responsible for many instances of sexual assault and rape. Students maintain a code of silence and culture of complicity about this violence — often to protect their Greek houses, but also because they fear ostracism,” the faculty wrote, and concluded, “The College must seize the opportunity to confront these issues forthrightly and courageously, not only to improve Dartmouth's reputation, but fundamentally to ensure the emotional, psychological, and physical well-being of its students.”
On Wednesday, Anderson said that is exactly what the administration is doing in forming the task force, coming together to address the issues.
“I think that the letter written by the faculty presented an opportunity to harness their interest in this issue and desire to make a difference. Therefore, the idea to form a task force seemed like a good one,” Anderson said. “The faculty was condemning hazing, the administration certainly condemns hazing, and we've done so publicly.”
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson is leading the task force, which is in the very early stage of forming, Anderson said.
Dartmouth administration is not unaware of hazing issues, he said. Hazing is against the law and the college's policy against hazing is stricter than the law, he said. All students who sign up to join school groups such as fraternities and sororities have to sign an agreement to not participate in hazing and to acknowledge that hazing is a violation of school policy and illegal, Anderson said.
Before going public with his story, Lohse had reported hazing to college administration in November 2010. At that time, Lohse asked to remain anonymous.
Dartmouth administration respected his request for anonymity and protected his identity, Anderson said, however, it limited the college and police investigation. Campus safety and security and Hanover police officers had to catch the fraternity members in the act of hazing, which they never did.
“It's one thing to have an investigation when you have a cooperating witness with detailed descriptions,” Anderson said. “For instance, he gave us a date and a time he said hazing would take place, giving what he knew about the inter-workings of this fraternity.”
The fraternity house was also subjected to unannounced searches, and the national fraternity organization was notified of the investigation, which according to that fraternity's rules would have triggered an internal investigation.
“We acted. Could we have done more if we had him on the record? I imagine we could have,” Anderson said.
At that time, Lohse seemed pleased with the results of the investigation. In one email to the college administration, he wrote that the increased scrutiny had solved the problem, Anderson said, adding, “I have pages and pages of emails between members of the administration and Andrew on what we were doing.”
The bottom line is the college administration has acted and will continue to act when allegations of hazing arise, he said.
“When confronted with a hazing allegation, Dartmouth will report it. That's what happened in Andrew Lohse's case and that's what happens in every case.”
Anderson confirmed that two fraternity houses are currently on social probation for hazing violations, far less extreme than the violations described by Lohse.
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