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A Frat Boy Confesses

Andrew Lohse ‘12 came over for dinner right at the end of 2011. He had e-mailed me a few months before, after I had taken apart a column that he had written in The D about the Ivies being little more than a farm system for Wall Street. He had written a fuller version of this piece for the Daily News, just as one of his previous D efforts had been the basis for a column he wrote for the Crimson. He seemed a cut above the usual D writer.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Lohse Book.jpgI had taken issue with his Wall Street assertions: he had put forward no evidence for his charge, whereas I had College data from Career Services and the Dartmouth Factbook showing that fewer Dartmouth students in his time and in the entire alumni body were in finance/consulting than in education and medicine. When I got his note, I told him that we’d be in Hanover at Christmas, and we should get together to talk. Given that I had been tough on him in my post — even obliquely noting his drug bust from a previous term — I was impressed by his confidence and curiosity in contacting me.

Elizabeth and I enjoyed a nice meal with him. He asked as many questions as he answered, and he was funny and friendly. Then he started to talk about hazing: all the gross, unsanitary, excessive acts that later came out in print. I had heard snippets of the same stories for years; these practices have long been an open secret on campus. Given Andrew’s successful past newspaper columns, we suggested that he write about his experiences. We did not know at the time, and he did not tell us, that he had already been thinking of doing so at the urging of other people, as he describes in the book.

A few weeks later, he showed me a draft of what came to be his famous whistleblowing column. The D was looking at it, he said, but was insisting on “proof.” That request was ironic for two reasons: Lohse was an eyewitness, and a good many D editors were Greeks, some in SAE itself. Lohse and the editors, as he recounted it at the time, went back and forth on the details of what he could and could not include in his description of hazing at SAE. Then the piece started to get passed around campus. When it seemed like The D was stonewalling, I suggested to Lohse that he run his account on Dartblog, and after some thought, that’s what we did on January 24. The site got over 20,000 hits in 24 hours, and The D relented and ran an edited version of the post the next day.

Rolling Stone came calling soon thereafter, and Lohse had a publishing contract a few months subsequent to the appearance of the RS article.

Ultimately Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: A Memoir is straightforward: Lohse describes the things that he did and those that were done to him. There’s no jargon, no pop sociology, no facile ideology of the type that marked some of his earlier writing. Methinks that a good editor scrubbed out that kind of fuzzy thinking. What’s left is a 303-page, fleshed-out version of his original whistleblower Dartblog/D column. It’s all there: the drugs, beer, liquor, girls, and the endless hazing. In addition, while the press loves to talk about how Lohse was hazed with vomelettes, dirty kiddie pools and endless regurgitation, for some reason SAE’s unsavory “ass beer” has not made it into national reporting (you’ll have to look it up for yourself; see pp. 146-147).

What is not present in the book is much introspection. While one binge lurches into the next, it’s hard to see at what points Lohse decided that enough is too much. He evolves not so much on purpose as because he hits bottom or is thrown out of the College due to his excesses. But I guess that’s not the point of the book; rather, it exists to give the world an aperçu of a side of the Ivies that doesn’t make the papers every day.

But is it true? Did the hazing really happen as Lohse depicted it? Everyone from Board of Trustees Chairman Steve Mandel to the WSJ’s Joe Rago ‘05 has asserted in some slippery fashion that Lohse made it all up. They all point to the fact that the Dean investigated Lohse’s charges and could not corroborate them.

Andrew Lohse4.jpgThe Dean in question is April Thompson, known in the book as The Administrator (a male). She is no longer at Dartmouth, and for good reason: she botched the investigation quite utterly. Of course, the 27 SAE brothers, lying through their teeth, denied everything (“what happens in the house stays in the house”), but what of Lohse’s eyewitness testimony?

When he first described SAE’s hazing to Thompson, she and members of her staff did no more than write notes of his comments: no film, no recording, nothing permanent. Then, after investigating the house as best she could, Thompson filed charges against 27 SAE brothers, the SAE corporation, and in an incomprehensible move, against Lohse himself — her only witness. As she might have expected (maybe she did?), Lohse turned around and told her that her hand-written notes were inaccurate, and he would no longer support a prosecution that had him in its sights as much as the house and its brothers. Case dismissed.

But beyond that ineptitude (typical of the entire Dean of the College office under Thompson’s boss Charlotte Johnson — now mercifully gone from Hanover, too), how can one judge Lohse’s veracity? Easy. He’s far from the only student to make similar charges. Over two years ago we published the account of another SAE brother, someone who is no friend of Andrew Lohse, that backs up Lohse’s description of events. Or look to Crispus Knight ‘03’s book, Three For Ship, which covers much the same territory. Or Snowden Wright ‘04’s 3,970-word-long post, Dirty Rush, published in The Good Men Project blog. Even Dartblog’s Isaiah Berg ‘11 has written in this space about the weekly ritual of doming at fraternities. And columnists in The D have commented on hazing rites for years, as has the press. Of course, hazing is not limited to frats; sororities get down and dirty, too.

To my mind, anyone denying Lohse’s description of events is following the kind of cynical PR strategies that marked the College for too long (but do not seem to be continuing under Phil Hanlon). Folks, it all happened.

As for Lohse now, he’s moved on to new passions, as Mashable reports:

Lohse is a frat boy turned feminist, though he shies away from being defined by any particular political movement. He is sensitive when talking about Greek life and the problem of campus sexual assault.

“If being a feminist means speaking up about these issues and equality,” he says, “then you could call me that.”

He explains why he eventually couldn’t defend belonging to a frat, which he calls “an emotional, psychological pyramid scheme.” He cites theorists Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, who famously wrote about how institutions wield power against the powerless.

How to explain this evolution? Well, as I see him, Andrew Lohse is a joiner, and then he is not. He jumps into an activity feet first, and then asks questions only later. As but one example, during his time in Hanover he wrote for all three of the College’s student papers: the decidedly middle-of-the-road Dartmouth, the right-wing Review and the left-wing Free Press (now defunct). Those episodes of his Dartmouth career didn’t make the book, but his experiences as a journalist are part and parcel of a character that led him to embrace the very worst aspects of SAE’s debauched fraternity behavior, and then decide for various reasons (some good, most bad) that the fratstar life was not for him after all.

As a very public opponent of gender-segregated Greek life and a participant in the fight against sexual assault, Lohse will doubtlessly throw himself quite completely into these campaigns — probably until he finds his comrades in arms wanting, perhaps until he finds himself bored, certainly until he moves on to another battle that is more attractive than the last disillusioning one that he left.

Is that a good thing? I’ll leave that question up to you to decide, but from my perspective any college student who commits himself fully to a project, and then looks around and asks himself why, makes a pretty good dinner table guest and is a courageous person. Whatever his motives, Andrew Lohse has done a service for Dartmouth in exposing a type of behavior that should not take place in Hanover. He is no excellent sheep.

Addendum: Beyond his ephemeral passions, Andrew is a serious musician. In the below video (apologies for the poor miking) he accompanies Masha Kurikova on the double bass in a version of My Funny Valentine at the Interplay Jazz and Arts summer workshop in Woodstock, Vermont:


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