Life at Dartmouth or an Episode of ‘Fear Factor’?

I can’t say whether Andrew Lohse’s account of Dartmouth’s fraternity culture is entirely true, but I would be surprised if most of it weren’t. Lohse, an imperfect whistleblower, offered his story to Janet Reitman, a writer for Rolling Stone. It reads more like an episode of Fear Factor than a description of life at an Ivy League school. There’s so much vomiting during his fraternity career that he loses all the enamel on his teeth.

I could say that these kids have too much time on their hands, that they are “souls without longing” (to borrow a famous phrase) or that there is simply not enough oversight on campus. But that still wouldn’t explain what the appeal of this kind of behavior is.

I spent my freshman year at Middlebury College, whose atmosphere was not much different. There were no fraternities by the time I arrived—they were turned into co-ed social houses, as I understand it, in response to just the sort of horrendous behavior described in this article—but the quantity and quality (if you can call it that) of the alcohol consumption remained. And it still puzzles me.

Drinking to the point of tipsiness or odd behavior seemed perfectly understandable. My classmates wanted to loosen up and they used beer to do it. One young man told my father (a college professor) that he couldn’t imagine talking to a girl without a few drinks in him. But I knew students who would just go into a dorm room early in the evening and drink to pass out. It was not uncommon to see ambulances on campus picking up students who needed to get their stomachs pumped. Why were these smart, attractive 20-year-olds with their entire lives in front of them behaving like sad, old alcoholics. It’s not just that they didn’t feel good the next morning. They didn’t feel good that night. I still haven’t seen a good explanation.

But I am beginning to doubt the reassurances of some adults who just say that such students will grow up when they graduate and leave this destructive and disgusting behavior behind them. I will leave aside for a moment all of the other behaviors that are connected with alcohol consumption—the high rate of sexual assaults most worrisome–and just say that in my anecdotal experience it is not uncommon for this kind of alcohol use to continue into what we now call “emerging adulthood.” Just as these students can still manage to get decent grades in school, they also manage to hold down real jobs when they graduate. Corporate lawyer by day, Frat boy by night.

I guess when they get married and have children they might cut back, but how many years can you live like an alcoholic before it becomes hard to live as something else?

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