There is a lot of hubbub at the moment surrounding the Greek Fraternity system at my alma mater, Dartmouth College. Basically, a student named Andrew Lohse made a series of allegations in an op-ed piece that was published on a variety of blogs, and eventually, at the College’s newspaper, The Dartmouth. The story then got picked up by Rolling Stone magazine and became widely disseminated. There are a few things you need to know about this whole story before we get to the actually important stuff:
- Lohse has a chip on his shoulder. He was caught doing cocaine at his fraternity (SAE), then he threatened the guy who turned him in (a war veteran and the House Manager at SAE), then he was involved in the sending of emails to the house asking people to both lie to the police and to ostracize the key witnesses. Some guy.
- People don’t join fraternities at Dartmouth until their sophomore year (sometimes secretly at the end of their freshman year). It isn’t like many larger schools where people pledge before they’ve even been to class. At Dartmouth, you know the character of the house you’re going to join. You know the brothers, you know the culture, it’s your choice. Now, sometimes you join a house and find that the culture wasn’t what you were expecting–that’s okay too, you can depledge. Several people depledged from my house over the course of my 3 years as a brother, and there were no hard feelings. They were always welcome to come back and hang out (and they all did).
- Most of his allegations are probably true. I was in a fraternity at Dartmouth, as were many of my friends, and I can verify that hazing does indeed occur. Some of it is quite frankly hilarious and clever. Much of it is gross. Most of it involves alcohol. Basically all of it is consensual. I personally refused some hazings. As my fraternity brother Gus Lubin wrote in Business Insider, people refused hazing for athletic reasons, academic reasons, or simply because they didn’t like it. At least at my fraternity (and those of my closest friends), if you really didn’t want to do something, you didn’t have to.
- The College administration absolutely knows what is going on. So, Lohse’s allegation that the College has purposely turned a blind eye to hazing is definitely true. The College is caught between a rock and a hard place in this one. Many of their most generous donors are fraternity alumni; alienating large contributors to the Dartmouth Fund compromises the College’s future plans and program budgets. The College also lacks significant evidence for hazing; there is a lot of hearsay and very little in the way of photographs and videos. In the rare occasions in which photos, videos, or incriminating emails have shown up, the College has been swift and heavy-handed in punishing offenders (Zeta Psi and Beta instantly come to mind here). So, the College pleads ignorance because it considers its other options unpalatable (shut down fraternities? Restrict alcohol? Somehow increase monitoring inside privately owned fraternity houses?).
- The social scene at Dartmouth revolves almost entirely around fraternities. A majority of eligible students join. Fraternity brothers provide free alcohol to basically anyone 7 nights per week. As a result, the social scene tends to reflect the reality: a lot of freezing, drunk men hanging out in their basement waiting for girls to show up. This leads to the recurring Dartmouth theme of sexual harassment and strained gender relations.
- First, host a weekly party for students that features free alcohol. The College has tried to offer social alternatives, but they’re always either non-alcoholic or pay-per-drink. College students are trying to drink, so they’ll go where the cheap booze is. If the College provided it, they’d be providing an equivalent, alternative social space over which they’d retain a modicum of control. Some of my good friends went to Pomona College in Claremont, CA. Every week, Pomona hosts “Pub”, a place you can go drink, dance, hang out on the College’s dime. It’s a great time. The scene there felt so distinctly healthier and happier than the average basement night at Dartmouth. This is something that Dartmouth College can recreate.
- Second, stop pretending like hazing doesn’t happen, like there’s nothing the College can do, like the College and the Fraternities have opposite goals. Open up your doors with more aggressive advisory programs to help people who might be struggling with the fraternity system. Acknowledge things like the all-campus Masters Pong Tournament. The College and the Frats have the same goal– create a space for people to safely have a good time. Stop acting like you’re living in two different worlds.
- Last, integrate non-fraternity social groups with frat-based ones. A lot of my best friends weren’t in fraternities, but they did participate in some really awesome Dartmouth programs (DOC trips, the DMC, athletic teams, etc.). At Dartmouth, the Frat scene is it’s own animal, distinct from other social groups. Would it be so hard to have the DMC invite a frat or two for a hike? Some of these connections happen naturally (guy from DMC happens to be an AXA and makes it happen), but the College can take a more active role in breaking down the social barriers between fraternities and non-frat groups. Promoting a united social atmosphere should be a priority of the College.