On Hazing, Frats, and Animal House

Animal House—also known as Dartmouth College—is making national news again, this time about a controversial op-ed written by a current student, senior Andrew Lohse, on the experience of being hazed in his fraternity. The op-ed brings up some important questions about being a young person today.

In the piece, Lohse describes what he had to do as a pledge for his fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (for those of you who are familiar with the film Animal House, this would be the “thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another” fraternity populated with preppy WASP types). Warning, the contents are graphic:

Among my many experiences as a fraternity pledge, I was: forced to swim in a kiddie pool full of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen, and rotten food products; forced to eat an omelet made of vomit; forced to chug cups of vinegar until I was afraid that I would vomit blood like one of my fellow pledges did; forced to inhale nitrous oxide; degraded psychologically on a daily basis; forced to drink beers poured down a fellow pledge’s ass crack; vomited on regularly, and encouraged to vomit on others.

He then calls upon the president of Dartmouth to take action against hazing:

Dr. Kim, I have a question for you: what will it take for you and your administration to decisively address hazing, sexual assault and substance abuse? If one student speaking out isn’t good enough for you, what is?

It has now been over a year since I shared this information with the College administration.

(In the interest of full disclosure and context, Lohse is no stranger to substance abuse. This little party habit—which he and other brothers allegedly indulged in the very fraternity that traumatized him so—was eventually reported to the police by another fraternity brother, Phil Aubart. Lohse and the other users were arrested for cocaine possession. And Aubart, who was also trying to do the right thing by “speaking out,” was threatened and ostracized as a result. According to information included in an affidavit, “Lohse allegedly spat on Aubart and poured out a beer on the door of Aubart’s room in the fraternity’s physical plant, according to an e-mail written by Aubart and sent to Hanover Police Officer Rolf Schemmel.”)

Alright, so, with that context in mind, back to the main story. Lohse is now a senior. He pledged the frat as a sophomore. Apparently had some good times in those intervening years. But he is now not so happy with how things went down. He wants justice, or something like that, from the Dartmouth president. For our purposes, the issues are: should he get it? Does he deserve it? What should be done about hazing?

There’s an interesting question that arises here: to what extent do we blame the “system” or the “system’s institutions” (here, the frats) for causing social evils, and to what extent do we blame the individuals within the system? You must answer that question before taking a course of action to solve the problem because either you sanction the “system” or you decide to hold individuals accountable for their misbehavior.

Lohse blames the system:

One fellow pledge shared with me once that he was so troubled by his experiences that he spent six months in counseling dealing with their emotional and psychological effects. He then became a pledge trainer himself, seemingly unable to break the cycle of abuse he had been so tortured by. 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, one which fraternities try to downplay under the pretense of plausible deniability. The sad truth is that my experience is not the exception, but rather the norm.

It seems clear to me that institutions can’t be bad in themselves without people in them doing bad things. Here, those people are the frat brothers who allegedly hazed Lohse and the other pledges. However, all the responsibility does not fall on the brothers. Some of it falls on the pledges. My question to Lohse is this: if you were enduring this “torture” as you call it, which would have commenced within the first few weeks of your pledge-hood, then why didn’t you get the heck out of there—de-pledge the frat? Lohse wants to blame the Dartmouth administration and hold it accountable for what he had to suffer through, but he needs to hold himself accountable first. Don’t let yourself be degraded.

In difficult situations, some people take personal responsibility. But Lohse, like so many disaffected young people today, is quick to condemn the “culture” for his own problems. This means that instead of proactively making decisions to change the way he lives his life, he idly stands by for administrators to form committees and task forces that, in the end, do nothing. He writes, “I, my fellow pledges, and all pledges since, have been trained to treat Dartmouth women with about the same respect with which we treated ourselves: none.” Trained? Really? If you’re treating yourself and the women in your life with no respect, then that sounds like a personal problem to me.

Here I have to agree with Gawker‘s John Cook, who writes:

If you join a frat and volunteer to let people vomit on you and bathe in semen because you believe that if you do, people will eventually think you’re “cool,” you totally deserve to get vomited on and bathed in semen. Enjoy your college years, kids.

Fraternity brothers like Lohse need to find the moral courage to stand up for themselves and not allow themselves to be degraded by these sick and twisted, sadomasochistic pledging rituals. If that means de-pledging the frat the instant your conscience sends up a red flag, if it means giving up being “cool,” then that’s the price a young person has to pay for doing the right thing.

  1. Pseudodionysius

    I’d like to hear some commentary by those on Ricochet who were in college frats.

  2. Snow Bird

    Thanks for reminding me why I remained a Gamma Delta Iota.

  3. Diane Ellis
    C
    Pseudodionysius: I’d like to hear some commentary by those on Ricochet who were in college frats. · 14 minutes ago

    Or perhaps those who were in Dartmouth frats…

    Paging Mr. Robinson.

  4. Pseudodionysius
    Diane Ellis, Ed.

    Pseudodionysius: I’d like to hear some commentary by those on Ricochet who were in college frats. · 14 minutes ago

    Or perhaps those who were in Dartmouth frats…

    Paging Mr. Robinson. · 5 minutes ago

    I love it when I set the pitch and someone else bats it in.

  5. Michael Tee

    I suppose this song isn’t played at frat houses nowadays.

  6. DrewInWisconsin

    It’s sick and disgusting. But I had the same conclusion before I even got to the end of your piece. The behavior continues because people keep willingly subjecting themselves to it as the price of admission for joining the club. It stops if people stop joining the club.

    Apply free market principles here. Situation solved!

  7. Caryn

    I’m with Cook. He wasn’t FORCED to do anything. He did stupid, disgusting, and humiliating stuff voluntarily. And then whined about it. Idiot. The creeps who dreamed up the ritual are pigs and hardly blameless for exploiting their fellow students’ insecurity and desire to join their appalling club. I don’t even want to think of the subhumans who provided the body fluids.

  8. Austin Murrey
    Pseudodionysius: I’d like to hear some commentary by those on Ricochet who were in college frats. · 15 minutes ago

    I myself was in a fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon in fact, and I speak for myself and my chapter when I say that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated, by the active brothers, alumni or the pledges.  If at any point the active members had engaged in this behavior the alumni from our chapter would have stepped in and booted the lot of us out rather than put up with even a hint of such a thing occurring, not to mention their fury at how we treated prospective brothers.

    While for pseudo-secrecy reasons (many of the activities were/are pretty silly and mostly done as a bonding experience as opposed to hazing) frats usually don’t talk about initiation or pledge “rituals”, I think this says far more about Dartmouth fraternities than the fraternity experience as a whole.  And that’s a shame, because people associate a few people acting badly with the whole of the experience instead of a extreme, extraordinary blemish on the otherwise good nature of the fraternity experience.

  9. mfgcbot

    Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down. Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that. Some schools re-design courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better technology. The point is, it’s possible. So let me put colleges and universities on notice: If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education and being vomited on regularly can’t be a luxury – it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.

    At least the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.

  10. Misthiocracy
    Emily Esfahani Smith: In the piece, Lohse describes what he had to do as a pledge for his fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

    Correction: He describes what he was asked to do as a pledge for his fraternity.  He didn’t have to pledge at all, if he didn’t want to.

  11. Emily Esfahani Smith
    C
    Misthiocracy

    Emily Esfahani Smith: In the piece, Lohse describes what he had to do as a pledge for his fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon.

    Correction: He describes what he was asked to do as a pledge for his fraternity.  He didn’t have to pledge at all, if he didn’t want to. · 4 minutes ago

    Good point. I stand corrected! 

  12. Fred J. Harris

    Andrew Lohse is story telling. Actually the kiddie pool also had flaming Kryptonite and poudered kidneys of ‘the gullible’.

  13. Bryan G. Stephens

    I was in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Club at my University. We just let people join by paying dues and sharing their interests.

    Never quite understood how any organization was worth hazing.

  14. DocJay

    Pride is not always a bad thing.  GDI for life.  

  15. Nathaniel Wright

    Like Austen Murray, I too was in a fraternity — Sigma Pi.  And like Austen and Fred, I find the story Lohse is telling to be incredible.  By which I mean utterly lacking in credibility.

    I’m not saying that there was no “hazing” in my pledge period, just that what Lohse describes is absurd. 

    The only person here who seems to have a genuine complaint is Aubart.  The fact that a fraternity had members arrested for drug use isn’t a particularly noble thing and ought to have led to a loss of charter and action from active alumni, not the ostracizing of a young man doing the right thing. I’d like to know more of Aubart’s story and not Lohse’s.. 

  16. Trace

    John Cook is exactly right. If a single one of these students indicated on their college applications that they were looking forward to engaging in these activities and inflicting them on others they would not only have been denied admission, but referred to counseling or the local sheriff. HOWEVER If the administration is knowledgeable and tacitly condones this behavior because of alumni pressure or some other reason, then they are equally complicit — because they are old enough to know better.

    This is abhorrent and is very difficult for me to reconcile with my own college experience.

  17. Dave Carter
    C

    This is all so incredibly alien, to me at least.  I remember working as a security guard on Panama City Beach, which helped pay for my college, and seeing these sorts of people turned loose during Spring Break.  It was appalling.   Not my crowd, really, so I took my “hazing” in boot camp in the military. 

  18. Mafuta Kizola

    I did high school at a boarding institution (2009), where we were subject to constant hazing – forcibly and without any assistance from the school administration- for the whole freshers year, we were beaten, had our stuff stolen and endured public humiliation , thankfully it never reached the level of the case mentioned here.

    I can’t understand how someone would submit himself to such kind of things, I have seen many people prefer to be beaten up than to endure continuous humiliation. How can you endure this and come back for more ?

    I don’t think He deserve justice, He could have walked out, not everyone get a chance to choose.

    I never knew that such things existed in the US.

  19. Look Away

     I went through similar behavoir during my fraternity time in the late 70′s. It wasn’t much fun but I can say that the hardships, perceived or otherwise, brought me together with a disparate group of guys who I love to this day. For 33 years many of us communicate and visit each other across the country. We have seen each other thru good times and bad, and those juvenile experiences provides the bond we use to laugh at each other as well at ourselves. My Son went through the same experience 5 years ago with a similar outcome. Those of you in the pre-90′s military and combat arms will understand.

    Listening to my nieces and friends’ daughters, I am appalled on what many young ladies go through in sorority pledging theses days. It may not be physical abuse, but even worse mental abuse. I cannot believe how viscious women can be to each other.

  20. Misthiocracy
    Bryan G. Stephens: I was in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Club at my University. We just let people join by paying dues and sharing their interests.

    Never quite understood how any organization was worth hazing. · 11 minutes ago

    You woulda had way more applicants if you hazed them.