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Hazing: Teaching Pledges to Say No

It was disheartening to learn about the Kim administration’s response to Andrew Lohse’s November, 2010 revelations about hazing. The reflexive excuse seems to have been that because Lohse wished to remain anonymous, there was little that could be done to convict SAE members of violating College policy and NH state law.

How sad to see this rush to prosecute. If in loco parentis means anything anymore, education rather than convictions should be the administration’s goal. As a father, if I were to catch my son or daughter in this type of transgression, my instinct would not be to call in the law enforcement authorities; rather, we’d have a series of long talks, and perhaps there would be inside-the-family punishment, but, in short, parents don’t call the cops on their kids. (The formalists among you might retort that the College has a legal obligation to do so, but as this space has noted previously, there is a great deal of leeway in the implementation of our laws. Has any institution of higher learning in NH ever been prosecuted for not informing on its students?)

Here’s a modest proposal or two for how the administration might have acted (and still might act) once it understood that hazing is a serious problem that extends far beyond the confines of Andrew Lohse’s fraternity. (As Dean Johnson recently wrote: “I also want to dispel the notion that hazing is limited to the Greek community. The abuse can and does happen in various types of organizations and teams, particularly those for which membership is selective.”).

Short Term: The accounts of hazing that I have heard from students all seem to recognize that there is an opt-out choice for students with the nerve to resist peer pressure. Athletes under team instructions to stay dry easily avoid the alcohol-saturated parts of hazing, and students who simply reject the proceedings due to their possession of a remnant of self-respect seem to be given a pass as well. Pressure will be applied, sometimes at high volume, but numerous sources have confirmed to me that a pledge who resolutely says no to hazing will not suffer any consequences at that time or later on in their life in a Greek house.

To my mind, the best way to throttle hazing is via the education of freshman. Get them all together (perhaps in two groups due to space constraints) during Freshman Week and recount to them the pluses and minuses of Greek life. Don’t hold back. Admit honestly (Deans, I know that this will be hard, but you can do it!) that the College has long had a serious hazing problem. Describe unflinchingly the foul things that have been done supposedly in the name of brotherhood — the goal here is similar to the horrific traffic accident videos that one sees in driver’s ed classes — and then tell the newly arrived students of the psychological and physical harm that has been experienced by pledges as a result. Have students past and present describe their experiences; have counselors explain how the attitudes engendered by hazing detract from the life of the College. And have present-day fraternity brothers and others explain how they resisted the pressure put on them to take part in hazing, and then encourage the freshman to have the manly courage to forgo this juvenile behavior.

Finally, President Kim can make an appearance to describe how the College will take hazing seriously in the future, and students caught doing so will be separated permanently from the College. He is good at this kind of motivational lecture; let’s use that talent.

After Freshman week, the rest of the College can follow up over the ensuing months. Team coaches can decree that all teams will be dry in-season. Faculty freshman advisers, major advisers and even thesis advisers can counsel students on the harm that they have seen in the past from hazing (almost everyone has stories).

Long Term: Over time, the only way to put real pressure on fraternity members to comport themselves like gentlemen is to provide the frats with competition. As long as the fraternities have absolute power over Hanover’s social life, they will be free to be absolutely corrupt. Nightclubs and cafés dreamed up by administrators won’t cut it, as decades of expensive experience has shown. So what to do? This space has repeatedly pushed for two major reforms at the College:

● We need more sororities: today there are approximately as many Greek women as men, but they have about half as many single-sex houses. Some sororities have over 150 members, and many have no physical plant. The College could make low-interest loans to new houses to help them build their own buildings. And the administration should allow them to be local sororities — as opposed to dry nationals — so that they may serve alcohol. These new houses will be attractive social alternatives to fraternities; and they will be infinitely safer spaces for women, and more civilized venues for all.

● We need to restore the social value of the college’s dormitories. Today students live in five or six dorms during their Dartmouth lives. Each time that they return to campus, they are thrown into the housing lottery and end up in a different dorm. You don’t need a doctorate in anthropology to know that stable communities will not develop in residences where nobody stays for longer than three terms. Transient hotels are not homes in which people want to invest time or effort. If students had the option of returning to a home dorm over their entire four years at the College, the dorms would return to being the social centers that they once were.

Needless to say, the above is but an outline for possible College policies. But, at least, let’s hope that these ideas begin a more meaningful conversation than other commentaries that have recently appeared.

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