A few nights ago, as I was waiting out the worst of Hurricane Sandy’s temper in the relative safety of my dorm room, I thought about my family—specifically my younger brother, who’s currently living and working in the Big Apple.
As I ruminated on the chances of his survival in his Midtown apartment (my fears weren’t allayed at all by Twitter’s grim prognostications), I had two important realizations: First, that he had—thankfully—made a pilgrimage to Dartmouth (where he’s a student) for Homecoming weekend; second, that he had probably weathered storms much worse than Sandy when he was hazed as a fraternity pledge.
Dartmouth is notorious among the Ivies for its pervasive Greek-letter culture. According to U.S. News & World Report, approximately 60% of the undergraduate population is affiliated with one of 26 fraternities or sororities. (Not-so-surprisingly, the fratty majority of the student body has a specific term for the unaffiliated that reflects the contempt they feel: GDI.)
As one might expect from a school with such a pervasive fraternity system, hazing is part of life at Dartmouth to an insane degree—it’s institutional, it’s expected, and absolutely everybody does it. It’s also been in the news: Andrew Lohse is currently America’s most famous frat brother for the dramatic reveal of his fraternity’s hazing and his own role in perpetuating it.
Hazing, as defined by the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention, is
“any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”
I’ve asked my brother on occasion what he thinks of frat life in general—I, for my own part, chose to remain unaffiliated and curious—and the answers I get from him are uniformly positive. It seems to me that the fraternity life suits him (it has certainly increased his already-impressive ability to chug), and that he’s done well for himself in the organization.
That said: he’s never spoken to me about his experience of being hazed, even when I’ve pressed him for details.
And therein, I think, lies the real ethical issue. There’s not much doubt that fraternity life can enrich its members, but the process involved in gaining admission is particularly despicable. (Not to mention the contempt that its exclusivity engenders.) Should the fraternity system be maintained if it necessarily involves—and even congratulates—harming undergraduates?
To put it simply: it’s complicated. Read the rest of this entry »