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.