A Lohsing Battle

By Blake S. Neff
Like a molasses tsunami (look it up), Janet Reitman’s exposé of Dartmouth in Rolling Stone came with plenty of forewarning but was nevertheless unstoppable and unavoidable, not to mention inextricably linked with alcohol. Reitman had been spotted all around campus weeks beforehand conducting interviews, while her main source Andrew Lohse had already tipped his hand with his infamous January editorial.

When the April 12 issue hit newsstands, then, there was very little that was surprising about it. Lohse’s major hazing accusations were repeated at greater length. His tale was fleshed out with juicy gossip and misleading anecdotes to complete an anti-1% narrative conducive to Rolling Stone’s audience. The article quickly drew over twelve thousand Facebook likes and was linked from sites such as Business Insider, Jezebel, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. While legions of Dartmouth students and alumni lost no time coming to the school’s defense in the article’s comments section or in their own articles over at Slate and the New York Daily News, needless to say the damage has been done. Thousands will read Reitman’s article and come away with a very negative impression without ever giving a glance to less notable responses which might rebut it.

This is distinctly unfortunate, because like most Rolling Stone pieces Reitman’s article is journalism so yellow it’s surprising it didn’t reignite the Spanish-American War. Beyond the framing story about Lohse and his hazing accusations (more on that later), the article is a cobbled together mess of anecdotes, innuendos, and generalizations that don’t stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. Dartmouth’s hostility to “social and political progress” (which Reitman equates with banning frats) is demonstrated by the College being “one of the last Ivies to admit women,” which is a rather biased way of saying the College went fully coed before either Columbia or Harvard and trailed Brown by a single year. The Dartmouth Review’s destruction of illegal and unsightly protest shanties on the Dartmouth Green back in the 1980’s, meanwhile, is used to imply campus sympathy for apartheid. Reitman even makes a strange glancing remark about the college president having a three-story house.  

Becca Rothfeld ’14 alleges that “no one wants to discuss [hazing] – just like they don’t want to talk about racism, sexism, homophobia, classism.” I sincerely wonder if Ms. Rothfeld actually goes to the same school I do, because as far as I can tell Dartmouth never shuts up about those things. Whether it’s PRIDE Week or the annual performance of The Fallopian Filibusters, Dartmouth doesn’t really lack for opportunities for students to indulge in their hatred of –isms. Even hazing was already a major issues last fall due to the College’s ham-fisted “safety regulations” and the probations handed down to AD and TDX. The idea of Dartmouth being a cloistered hivemind is simply indefensible.
Reitman’s absurd unfairness is most evident in her description of Dartmouth Trips. She quotes Nathan Gusdorf ’12, who bafflingly describes the Trips process as being “hazed into happiness,” and uncritically allows Lohse to describe a bizarre alternate reality where Trips are an insidious plot to enforce the ideological homogeneity that Dartmouth is the best place in the universe and anybody who disagrees probably suffers from a mental disorder.  That’s quite the claim to make against a program which the vast majority of students seem to view merely as a deeply enjoyable way to make new friends and feel welcome in their first days living away from home. One gets the feeling that Lohse and Gusdorf might consider just about anything to be hazing, from getting potty trained to watching the State of the Union address to associating with Andrew Lohse.

In Reitman’s universe, Dartmouth is a school for men, future one percenters who pay their dues in hazing humiliations as a right of passage into the halls of the American elite. Frankly, if Reitman had bothered to take a narrow tack here, she might have produced something useful. While some of Lohse’s extreme allegations (such as the famed Kiddie Pool of Bodily Emissions) are probably false, there is ample evidence that more mundane accusations regarding “vomlets,” “ass beers,” and the like are true. Moreover, there’s quite a lot to be said for the idea that students voluntarily put up with all of this due to a combination of negative peer pressure and the belief that being in the right frat is essential to early career success. However, Reitman knows that scandal sells, and observing the pointlessly self-destructive nature of a few students at a handful of frats just doesn’t sell magazines in the same way reducing Dartmouth to a machine which exchanges puke for banking jobs does. Reitman essentially writes the rest of the school out of existence. Sororities are mentioned a grand total of three times, and the co-ed houses once. The hundreds of students in every class who graduate without affiliating at all may as well live on the moon for all that they matter in the story. Plenty of these students manage to have friends, have fun, and yes, get a good job without having to debase themselves by eating vomlets or drinking milk until they puke. By ignoring what amounts to a majority of the school and turning Dartmouth into an obvious caricature, Reitman robs her piece of any real value or integrity.

Given its manifest flaws, it’s hardly surprising that Reitman’s article provoked rage or derision not just from fraternity brothers but also from the vast majority of the school at large, including the co-eds and independents who often have little attachment to the existing social structure. Even Dartblog’s firebrand Joe Asch, who writes almost constantly and loves attacking modern Dartmouth the way SAE apparently loves vomit, has been remarkably taciturn in his response, perhaps in recognition of how Reitman has overreached.
If it’s heartening to see that most Dartmouth students will defend their alma mater from a gross hatchet job, in the grand scheme of things this might be the worst possible outcome. Dartmouth students are largely powerless to halt any damage Reitman has done to the school’s reputation or the value of their degrees, so the only way for this to all turn out better would be if it could somehow lead to positive change at Dartmouth. Dartmouth does have houses which engage in gross or dangerous hazing which cannot be entirely excused by its voluntary nature, and the hook-up culture itself is far from healthy even before one touches on the matter of sexual assault. By publishing a shoddy hit-piece which introduced few substantive criticisms while encouraging the Dartmouth student body to close ranks, though, Reitman has actually helped ensure that no substantive discussion or change will occur regarding these topics, which will be to the detriment of everybody except Reitman and Rolling Stone.
At the least, much of Dartmouth can at least take solace in the fact that Reitman’s partner in crime used Rolling Stone as a forum to immolate himself in front of millions of people. Dartmouth might look bad, but Mr. Lohse fares even worse. Reitman puts a great deal of focus on Lohse and his story comprises the narrative core.  This is all the worse for Lohse, because the longer the spotlight shines on him the more he emerges as a character who is by turns baffling, repulsive, and pitiable. It seems strange that Reitman would so dramatically discredit her primary source, but on the other hand this is Rolling Stone, after all, where characters far worse than Lohse may be lionize
d if they are sufficiently left-wing or at least have sold a few million records. The article’s online comments page has numerous people praising Lohse’s “bravery,” so perhaps
Rolling Stone and its readership is simply off in its own little world.

That Lohse comes off so badly is especially notable as it occurs despite Reitman’s clear bias towards her subject. Besides groan-inducing descriptions of Lohse’s hair, eyes, and “sweet-faced demeanor,” Reitman often subtly slants descriptions in Lohse’s favor. When describing the backlash against Lohse on The Dartmouth’s online comments page, she puts in scare quotes the accusation that Lohse is a “criminal,” as though this is merely some opinion of a student body angry that its vomlet-gobbling days are over. Of course, as the article itself reveals several pages later, this is too generous. Lohse is literally a criminal, and if putting the term in quotes is necessary then I certainly hope Ms. Reitman will not object if I henceforth refer to her as a “journalist.”
Reitman similarly leaves out certain facts which might further impugn his already shaky credibility. While Lohse’s three-month stint at The Dartmouth Review is mentioned, she doesn’t mention the fact that Lohse quit because the paper refused to let him review a book promoting 9/11 conspiracy theories, or his embarrassing “An Ex-Reviewer Speaks Out” article for the Dartmouth Free Press, which firmly established Lohse’s reputation as a chronic backstabber with lines describing his former colleagues as people who “walk hunched-over like homo erectus mumbling gibberish.”

Fortunately, Reitman does mention other instances of Lohse’s natural vindictiveness. After burning his bridges at the Review, it didn’t take long for him to move on to his fraternity. His decision to turn on SAE is plainly driven by anger over his drug conviction, which he regards as “hypocrisy” because his drug use “wasn’t harming other people.” Aside from plainly not understanding the meaning of hypocrisy, Lohse isn’t even speaking truthfully, considering the brother who reported Lohse suffered witness intimidation and destruction of property.

In contrast to negative impression created by an objective look at known events, the hype Lohse gives himself sounds like a greatest hits collection of 20th century cultural icons. At one point, he describes himself as seeking to write a memoir, a “generational tale…part Bright Lights, Big City, part The Sun Also Rises, and part This Side of Paradise” (hopefully, he learns the meaning of words like ‘hypocrisy’ before writing it) Evidently, Lohse fancies himself as Jay Gatsby. But hold on a minute, later it turns out that Lohse traveled in Asia and experience a profound spiritual awakening that changed him completely, so he’s actually the Dalai Lama (or at least Steven Seagal). Following his return to Dartmouth, he claims to have set out on a lonely quest to change SAE.
“I saw myself as a reformer” changing SAE from the inside, claimed Lohse. Apparently, Lohse is actually Mikhail Gorbachev.

But wait! It seems that Lohse’s spiritual awakening and reformist attitude wasn’t enough to suppress his inner rebel. Apparently, the best path to reform at Dartmouth is by assaulting an S&S officer with a folding chair, an act Lohse characterizes as an “existential act of rebellion.” Perhaps Lohse was actually Cool Hand Luke all along.

Joking aside, the sad reality of Andrew Lohse is that of a man who repeatedly burns his bridges only to lash out at his former friends, behavior exacerbated by substance abuse, a desire for attention, and a refusal to ever be at fault. Lohse’s delusions of grandeur have made him co-opt a left-wing magazine and its 1.5 million subscribers in an act of petty vengeance. He has shown himself a dishonest rakehell, a maltreater of women, and a sot.

Dartmouth dismisses him at its peril.

As easy as it is to mock Lohse, or loathe him, it would be a mistake to simply grumble about how he has enabled Rolling Stone to defame Lone Pine Land. For all of its unjustified hyperbole, Reitman’s hit piece has ample content which is completely true and still disturbing to many outside readers. A summary of the article at Business Insider describing the “most shocking parts” gave just as much attention to Dartmouth’s over-the-top binge drinking as it did to culinary innovations and exotic aquatics. Dartmouth’s culture of alcoholic excess is so pervasive that even drier students are largely used to it, which can blind many to just how unhealthy it all is. Practices like boot and rally, where one induces vomiting in order to go on drinking, are enormously stupid, and nominal “games” like Thunderdome aren’t much better.
In fact, at the macro level, Dartmouth’s drinking is not simply dangerous but suicidal. With so much binge drinking going on, highlighted by dozens of Good Sam calls every year, it is almost a statistical inevitability that eventually a student will die through a tragic combination of excess and negligence, and this student might have the nerve to have good character references or even a friend. When it comes the fraternity system might be destroyed with it.

Many will dismiss this line of argument by saying that excessive drinking is a part of every college that isn’t Brigham Young, and they’d be right. That doesn’t matter. Drinking at Dartmouth is equated with the fraternities and vice versa, and as the recent open letter signed by over a hundred faculty members reminded everybody the Greek system has no shortage of enemies. Not every assault on the Greek system will conveniently self-destruct as Lohse has.

Dartmouth’s Greek houses have a long history and are an integral part of the school, and despite their flaws most students greatly appreciate them. It would be a shame for them to be extirpated from campus, but such a fate will be increasingly likely if the houses are unable to avoid dangerous or disgusting behavior. Andrew Lohse and Janet Reitman have humiliated the College, but their antics are mostly just a warning shot. A constructive response might salvage some good from this entire sad affair, and ensure that the Andrew Lohse’s of the future don’t do far worse.