A Talk About Fraternities And Hazing With Dartmouth Fraternity Whistleblower Andrew Lohse

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Andrew Lohse


To some people, the name “Andrew Lohse” is a dirty word that should never be mentioned. Bring him up to those deeply involved in an Ivy League school’s fraternity life and you’re likely to get a contentious, “fuck that guy” reaction. In 2012, Lohse — a former Dartmouth student and former lacrosse player from New Jersey — gained notoriety for speaking out about the traumatic hazing he alleged to take place at his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Originally a newspaper column, the details he revealed about Dartmouth SAE and its grotesque pledging process eventually became a much-buzzed about Rolling Stone article in 2012. Now Lohse is explaining his experiences in his own words in a tell-all book, Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy.

Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy details how a school like Dartmouth is dominated by its Greek system. Lohse spends a good bit of time on the drunken nitty-gritty of the pledging process, including how SAE brothers insisted pledges to eat “vomlets” and put bodily fluids and feces into a kiddie pool before pledges jumped into it. He’s not without his critics, though, and has given them plenty of fodder to adversaries over the years, including his separate arrests for drunken disorderly conduct and cocaine, which resulted in him leaving the school.

Depending on how you look at Lohse, he’s either a whistleblowing hero pointing out the hypocrisy, entitlement, and general sleaziness of the fraternity system at powerful schools like Dartmouth OR a pariah who narc’d on his SAE brothers to further his own personal agenda. That’s something the readers of this site will have to draw their own conclusions on.

While promoting Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy, Lohse swung by our office in New York to discuss his fraternity experience and how power gets corrupted in the distinguished corridors of power at Ivy League schools. Our conversation is below.

Whether you like it or not, you’ve become a sort of an advocate for Greek system reform at a lot of colleges around the country. Is this somewhere you thought you’d end up?

I think people see in an issue what they want to see in it. People from the Greek side of the fence who are not willing to look at the flaws of the system can see it as “oh well this is just crazy or it never happened.” People on the the other side see my book as more proof why we need really progressive reform on campus. Personally, I fall more in that latter camp. But there’s definitely people that use the word activist, and I don’t really see myself like that; I’m just one guy whore wrote a column for my school newspaper about stuff that happened in my life and my opinions about it. I would have never predicted we would be sitting here and chatting about this. And that kind of speaks to those who say “oh, he had this all planned oh” or “he was doing this to further his career.”

Like the idea that you criticized fraternities just for the book deal?

Yeah. If anybody had written that column and spoken their minds to get a book deal – that’s stupid. That’s just not really how it works. You have to understand I’m still pretty overwhelmed by how quickly this is all happening.

It fascinates me how it snowballed for you. You did the column, then obviously Rolling Stone, and now you have a book out about the entire experience. What was the impulse back in the day that made you want to do a column criticizing Greek life at Dartmouth? 

I feel like sometimes when you’re in college and you’re in a certain kind of culture — maybe you’re one year, two years into —  you think Greek life this is gonna play a role the rest of your life, your frat bros from pledging are gonna be your bros for life. And it doesn’t really work like that, you know, for a lot of people anyway. Just because somebody vomited on you doesn’t mean that you’re actually friends.

Confessions of a Frat Boy
The hazing kind of works in the same way that the basic training, I mean, I’ve never been in the military but how I suspect it would work; people can bond over just a shitty experience that they had. But that’s not real bonding, that’s not like getting to know another guy that’s in your class and just getting a beer with him or playing pong or playing sports with him. Nothing real is going to come out of a totally constructed, elaborate scenario that your older Bros in a fraternity have created for you. So deciding to kind of come forward with my experiecnce was a gradual process.

As I talk about in the book, in 2010 I went forward to the administration to tell them about the hazing. And I thought, well, I’m gonna remain anonymous. I was really conflicted about it, really confused about it, as a lot of people might be. After I did, nothing really came of that, so I started to think maybe college administrations aren’t really interested in the experience of being a student, including the safety and social dysfunction that harms men and, in most cases, women on campus.

I just wanted to share the story and it took off from there.

What happened to you at Dartmouth after you started publicly talking about your fraternity’s secrets and hazing process?  

I kind of had my own level of insulation because when I wrote the column. I was off-campus. If I had been on-campus, I would have felt physically unsafe. And there were times that I went to campus afterwards. Obviously Hanover, New Hampshire is a small town, but one time my girlfriend and I met my brother for dinner over there. He was there with his company, who was doing some recruiting. My girlfriend and I parked the car at the garage and as soon as we got out of the garage, a group of people was like “It’s Andrew Lohse.”

I’m like “Fuck… really guys?”And two minutes later after we sit down and order our drinks, my phone is blowing up with people text messaging “Are you on campus?” “Why are you here, you shouldn’t be here?” and I’m like…. This is America, if I want to go have dinner at a restaurant, it’s a free country. Sitting there, I probably saw 6 or 7 people I know. It was an awkward dining experience, but I understand that it’s a sensitive thing for a lot of people.

A lot of people see it from their personal vantage point and they don’t want to take a step out of it. And in a lot of ways with Dartmouth or any school, you feel like you gain a lot out of being in the frat. You feel like you gain a lot of feelings about following this prescription vis-à-vis supporting the college and the institution and being a proud alumnus and whatnot.

But that’s kind of only one identity you can inhabit. It’s like people who say that if you question American foreign policy you’re unpatriotic or something. Obviously that’s a really big example, but I feel like Dartmouth is kind of a microcosm of that American society in general and the frats are in this extreme. It’s a really condensed version of that same culture with all of the flaws, all of the fears, the secrecy, and the abuses of power that go on and people don’t talk about it.

If you went back and did college again as an 18-year-old, do you feel like you would have been involved in Greek life?

Absolutely not. Growing up in New Jersey, a lot of my good friends went to Rutgers. Good school, if you’re in the state and you get good grades, you get scholarship money. There are a lot of guys at Dartmouth who you wouldn’t think are fratty guys. If they were at a school that had a different kind of Greek culture, they wouldn’t be affiliated. I almost went to Tulane, too I would have never been in a frat at Tulane. The thing to me is that it was connected to Dartmouth and compounded by my grandfather, who I idolized being in a frat and my older brother who I looked up to being in a frat. I thought that they did well with it, I would do well with it.

What I found was very different than what I had imagined. Maybe I had an unrealistic idea of it. Obviously I heard some things. My brother’s frat is the one frat that doesn’t haze, which obviously gave me a different understanding. But still, the first time I visited him in high school was before he had pledged Sig Ep.

I remember visiting him and said “I want to show you the frat I’m thinking of rushing.” I remember going there and being really disappointed. Because these houses look so beautiful on the outside. And you go inside and they’re literally disgusting like “Who would want to live here?” This doesn’t even seem all that fun, it seems kind of like beneath what you would expect.

I think that is why some people are so shocked by the book. I think a lot of the people reading the book or reading the articles are shocked because they imagine these really straight-laced guys in navy blazers doing whatever Ivy League people do and the reality is that it’s totally different than that.

Your experience caused you and others to push for reform at the school and at SAE. Do you feel like Dartmouth stood behind you with what what you had to say about the system?

No. Absolutely not and they made that clear. They still think that they should be going after the individual, not the organization.  It’s not my job to run the school and educate all these people and have it be safe and follow the federal law and state law. But, yeah, when I first met with them in 2010, I got the impression that they were going to work with me.

I told one administrator about hell night and every hazing event; He saw the e-mails that it was gonna happen. I mean, there would never be a reason for hell night not to happen. These things are really tightly planned. Later I found out that the dean told them not to haze. He said “yo, dudes, don’t haze.” On the other hand, if he went to the police and said “oh, there is going to be having a hazing event,” the school would have to give a mandatory report that they received this information. So what do you think is going to happen? The police are going to go there and they’re not going to see hazing.

So from the very beginning, that struck me just as being kind of sleazy and not being serious. I went to them in good faith, maybe a little naively thinking they would do something. I’ll accept that charge of being naïve but it’s just weird the way they handled it. And it’s also no secret. They know about hazing at Dartmouth. Dartmouth frats have a rich history of these shenanigans. And when these administrators and President Hanlin try to talk about it as if this is totally new, they act like it is the first time they’re hearing of it or that I made the whole thing up.

When my grandfather was at Dartmouth, the then-president said fraternities are a sanctuary for juvenile delinquency. And then in the 80’s, President McLaughlin said they were unsanitary and that one of his biggest regrets are that he didn’t abolish them. Then you have President Wright in the late 90’s who tried to reform them with the student rights initiative, but there was a full-scale march on his house, a tea party level revolt from the student body. So we all know about this history, but there’s a short institutional memory.

Frats have been derecognized at Dartmouth before, but it doesn’t mean anything. Time in and time out, you see frats with serious crimes that come back. One secret cameras installed so they could film women having sex. Obviously the women didn’t consent to being filmed. They were kicked off campus and they came back. You have to wonder where the donation changes hands there. The alumns and the students and the parents should know, you know, when a frat gets derecognized for something like that. There was the frat next door that got derecognized for actually publishing a patented date rape manual. They were derecognized a couple years later and now they’re back. Money is involved in that. Another example: Another frat had an organized effort to burn down the frat next door. And they were obviously derecognized. They lit the curtains on fire. They were derecognized a couple years later and now they’re back. So obviously this paints an administration that doesn’t follow its own rules.

We need to know about the money. A lot more reporters need to follow that story. We deserve to know if donations change hands with certain stipulations.

How do you feel universities and fraternities should be regulated?

A lot of local police departments have a hard time with hazing because perceive the hazing cases to be kind of ambiguous. And in some cases, they are. It kind of goes back to this question of consent: Are you consenting to this hazing when the brothers are so intoxicated? It’s interesting. But regardless, hazing is still a crime in the vast majority of states.

If the university has information about these offenses, it needs to be made more publicly available. For example, there are frats that are hit with hazing violations that maybe they get two or three terms of probation. And some of them are small things, like unregistered kegs on a hazing night. But if there were a way to put all that information in one place and for students to see it, it gives a sense of perspective about the frat, no some short institutional memory from two or three years beforehand.

Let’s say you want to know about Theta Del at Dartmouth and there was a “this month, this year” list of all the violations accrued overtime. But I think the problem is I think Dartmouth wouldn’t want to release all that information in one place for parents of students and outsiders to see because it would show that they don’t actually enforce it. It’s constantly a little slap on the wrist here, a slap on the wrist there, looking the other way here kind of thing over time.

On the national level, do you feel like the changes that SAE has made over the last year by stopping pledging is a step in the right direction? Because SAE has such a terrible reputation. For the last 10 years.

There was an SAE Spokesperson saying they have investigated these hazing claims and they take it all very seriously. But the question I raised there is like, when George Desdunes was killed during SAE’s fraternity hazing in 2011, a 19-year-old kid with his hands zip-tied died of alcohol poisoning on a couch in Cornell, where was SAE national before that? Like, it’s not good enough to just try and put the PR shine on it and kind of put out the fires after they happen. What about actively reforming the institution beforehand?

The problem is I don’t think you can actually do that without fundamentally changing the idea of what a fraternity is. We all know there are frats that are worse than others; there are good frats, there are bad frats, there are some where people don’t haze, where people are just focused on whatever thing. But SAE, particularly in the South, there are some horrific stories that you see constantly popping up.

Just the idea that the fraternities as individual entities and national entities can self-police is just a laughable idea. They have too much to lose by doing that. When the entire foundation of your institution is based on these exclusionary, secret practices how would we ever trust an accurate representation of what would ever go on?  It’d be like expecting large financial institutions or banks who are defrauding lenders or borrowers to be actively reporting on themselves. That’s why we have the SEC. That’s why we have these different watchdog agencies. To keep them honest. We don’t really have that for frats. We should, but administration won’t because they’re in the same boat; they have too much to lose too. It’s obvious why Dartmouth is reluctant to really address it. Because they still want to pursue the strategy of “we’re gonna wait it out, we’re gonna dump it all on him.” But it’s not going to work.

At some schools there’s those sort of underground frats that exist outside of that system. And I understand that a lot of people think there’s nothing you can do about that. But it’s like people, when these dudes get involved hazing even in that circumstance, they kind of have to know they are participating in something illegal.

The appeal of frats has always been popular, but it’s really having a moment right now, especially for high school kids. 

It’s kind of like a meme.

It’s this weird cultural change that’s happened over the past couple of years.

Yeah. My girlfriend goes to Smith and is from Singapore. I was hanging out with her in Singapore and we were in a mall, and they have this whole clothing line that’s kind of frat-themed. It was so weird to see. There’s definitely a fascination with it right now.

I sort of worry about the long-term implications of that, though.

Me too.

I feel like things can get weird when you have like kids in high school who are like “we’re gonna be frat as fuck!” and they start idolizing the system in the wrong way. 

You’re leading me to one of my biggest points, which is how the dysfunction with fraternities has a lot to do with male/female dynamics on campus. I feel like it’s driven by the fact that many of these institutions — SAE was founded before the civil war. — were founded before women’s suffrage, before civil rights. They’re from these archaic 19th century ideas. I don’t know why some people are quick to defend that.

So we have to ask how do frats fit into the 21stcentury world that we live in where men and women work together and there are not these different gender roles. We’re already in this world where education is not just for men, like it was for the most part when a lot of these frats were founded. On paper, sure, maybe there are some things about the frats that are great; they focus on community service and philanthropy, even though that’s usually just the cover for when you get busted — “Look! We donated $500 dollars to autism or something.” Maybe there are some frats at different schools that sure they do a certain amount of social good.

Just the idea that we think that these institutions have a place in the society that we live in now where things are rapidly changing and rapidly moving forward in ways that we can’t really predict, to cling to this idea of these secret male cults of alcohol and whatever…. It’s kind of ridiculous. It would be like trying to fit medieval guilds into the culture of Silicon Valley.

You know, I see a parallel there. The types of frats that we have now, they just don’t fit with our values as a society. I mean because even people on the far right, they’re usually not going to say that women shouldn’t get education or shouldn’t get fair pay and should stay home and do the laundry. Sure, there are crazy people who say those things, but we live in a pretty rational world and a country where we believe in equality between the genders no matter who you are or what your background is. And that is not reflected in the fraternity culture. It’s not built on that. It’s built on excluding people based on all sorts of totally meaningless shitty little things.

Race still plays a role in some places. Money still plays a role in a lot of places. Things like that. Obviously I’m only speaking about my personal experience, but I’m seeing the moment we’re having with fraternities right now and the friction they have on many college campuses, especially regarding sexual assaults on campus. It’s a reflection of these 19th century ideas still existing in the 21st century.

I mean…. we don’t live in that world, thank god.

 

Buy Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy on Amazon or at a local bookstore near you.