FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Dartmouth’s Culture of Complicity

“We should have gotten rid of the fraternities.” That is the conclusion reached by former Dartmouth College President David T. McLaughlin in a 1997 interview. McLaughlin lamented that the “negatives of that system . . . outweighed the positives.” Indeed, in 1978 the Dartmouth faculty had voted 67-16 to abolish fraternities and sororities. Later, in 2001, 101 faculty signed a letter decrying the fact that they continued to observe in their classrooms ”female students and students of color who suffer from institutionalized practices of sexist and racist humiliation that fester largely unabated within secret fraternity culture.” And in 2012, 105 Dartmouth faculty issued a statement condemning the hazing taking place in the College’s fraternities as “moral thuggery” and asserting that “Greek organizations operate and in some cases are constituted directly in opposition to the values the College holds dear.” Yet despite this long history of official conclusions about their deleterious effects, fraternities at Dartmouth College remain ensconced.

This matters more than ever since the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has visited Hanover again this month as part of a Title IX investigation to conduct interviews relating to ongoing complaints about racism, sexual assaults and sexual harrassment at Dartmouth. The investigation aims to determine whether the College’s response to these issues has been sufficient. This latest visit comes on the heels of the publication by a freshman of a “rape guide” specifically targeting another student. Possible government sanctions against Dartmouth include fines and even the relinquishment of all federal funding.

So, the stakes are high for Dartmouth’s new president, Phil Hanlon, a Dartmouth alum himself who was also a member of a fraternity. The College has raised expectations of a Hanlon presidency through the roof, starting with the trumpeting of his selection last November on the big video screen above Times Square. The several Dartmouth trustees with intimate connections to New York City government and Wall Street must have been pleased by such a visible debut.

During my own time at Dartmouth in the 1980s, student life was marred by a toxic atmosphere of ritualized alcoholism; anti-intellectualism; homophobia; misogyny; and racism. (Shortly after I graduated, there were also flagrant incidents of anti-semitism.) The locus of these problems was the fraternity houses. Many young lives were crippled, and academic careers derailed, by institutionalized alcoholism. Female students were referred to by fraternity boys as “co-hogs” – a term coined in an undergraduate song that was a awarded a prize by a dean – and it was not uncommon to hear boasts about “pulling a train” on a girl. Binge drinking was endemic, and it was considered quite acceptable and even laudable for a student to get so drunk that he would “boot,” or vomit. In this atmosphere, it was difficult to study and carry on a normal social life.

I assumed, though, with the attainment of a 50/50 gender ratio among undergraduates and the mere passing of time, that these noxious products of Dartmouth tradition had faded away. I believed the propaganda coming hard and heavy out of the College’s PR machine attempting to demonstrate that the campus now consisted almost exclusively of serious-minded, talented young scholars preparing themselves to make a positive mark on the world. As a heartened alum, I started to interview applicants for admission, omitting to relate the ugly parts of my experience at the College, while accentuating the positive aspects. I imagined that in the 21st century, Dartmouth finally had become the thoroughly superb institution that I had expected and wanted it to be — and that I knew it could be.

Last spring, however, several undergraduates publicly staged what has come to be known as the “Dimensions protest.” I read what they were saying in the papers about the College’s troubling social atmosphere, how it was particularly hostile to gays, minorities and women. I was shocked by the apparent shortcomings in the way the administration was dealing with the aggression and dysfunction on campus. The College’s official statements and measures seemed to many students and to me to consist almost entirely of window dressing.

I started to do intensive research. (A whole series of ugly incidents involving drunkenness and sexual assault are chronicled in the electronically archived pages of the student newspaper, “The Dartmouth.”) I learned through a recent alum’s published commentary that “pulling the trigger” – or vomiting on cue – was still widespread among drunk fraternity members. I found that so many alumnae had experienced sexual assault on campus that an entire formal group had been formed around the issue. It appeared that virtually nothing at all had changed since the 1980’s, and before that, the 1970’s. The College remained a bastion of harmful anachronisms. Others may have done similar research and reached similar conclusions, as applications this year plummeted by 14% — a uniquely dismal performance among Ivy League schools.

If Dartmouth College really wants to achieve “world class” status, a characteristic it often ascribes to itself, it needs to summon up the will to make definitive and radical changes. The sine qua non of any effort should be the elimination of the so-called Greek system. This would not be a panacea, but it would constitute a powerful and necessary move in the right direction. Dartmouth simply cannot continue disingenuously to scour the country and the world in search of bright, hardworking young people, invite them to enroll; and then sit back while a large plurality of their classmates hive off into closed packs that engage in alcoholic rituals featuring extreme intoxication and vomiting — along with the denigration of the “non-affiliated,” particularly minorities and women. That is not fair to unsuspecting young people and their parents, and it certainly is not the mark of a premier institution of higher learning. To update President McLaughlin’s stark assessment for 2014 and beyond: “Dartmouth must at long last – for its own sake, and for the welfare of its students – get rid of the fraternities.”

Christopher C. Schons is a graduate of Dartmouth College. He lives in Virginia.

More articles by:

Christopher C. Schons holds an A.B. degree, received magna cum laude, from Dartmouth College. He can be reached at christopher_schons@yahoo.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
R. G. Davis
Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist
Negin Owliaei
Red State Rip Off: Cutting Worker Pay by $1.5 Billion
Christopher Brauchli
The Side of Trump We Rarely See
Curtis Johnson
The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting
Jesse Jackson
End Endless War and Bring Peace to Korea
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: What About a New City Center?
Tracey L. Rogers
Candidates Need a Moral Vision
Nicky Reid
I Was a Red Flag Kid
John Kendall Hawkins
The Sixties Victory Lap in an Empty Arena
Stephen Cooper
Tony Chin’s Unstoppable, Historic Career in Music
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Elizabeth Keyes
Haiku Fighting
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail