LGBT Community Speaks Out on Greek Houses

LGBT Alums, Others Speak Out on Greek Houses

        Following the recent widespread publicity concerning Dartmouth’s fraternities, leaders from the College LGBT community have added their voices and perspectives to the discussion.  In early February, Michael Bronski, Senior Lecturer in Women’s and Gender Studies, aided in drafting an open letter to the Administration signed by 105 faculty asserting, among other things that “the Greek system …   contributes to the verbal and physical harassment of women, LGBT people, and people of color on this campus.”  Shortly thereafter, Jordan Osserman ’11 published a web-based petition, signed by nearly 150 alums, making similar assertions.  LGBT students on campus have raised similar concerns, including at the inaugural “Talk It Out” event, held before a packed Moore Theater in the Hop on April 6th, where LGBT students cited numerous instances of homophobia on campus.  

        To try to learn more about the situation, and capture the range of opinion that exists, Green Light spoke with a number of leaders and other members of Dartmouth’s alum, student and faculty LGBTQA communities.  This survey paints a mixed and at times troubling portrait of the influence of at least some aspects of the Greek letter organizations upon the LGBT and other historically marginalized communities at Dartmouth.   While homophobia is in decline at Dartmouth, that prejudice and others seem to linger most strongly in some Greek houses and rituals.  Moreover, several commentators noted the reluctance of the College administration to tackle the issue in a meaningful way. 

        We present below a number of comments that we received from the LGBTQA community.  Many of these comments appear in shortened form in the printed version of the May 2012 Green Light.  Many of the commentators we spoke with believe that, in collaboration with the administration, students, and faculty, alumni involvement will be essential in helping to bring about positive change.                   

History Professor Annelise Orleck, who signed the faculty open letter, elaborated on her concerns.  “The overall culture of hyper-masculinity that is expressed in fraternity rituals contributes to harassment of gay men and lesbians,” as well as other historically marginalized groups at Dartmouth.  “I’ve seen it; it happens again and again.”   Looking forward, Orleck said, “It is incumbent on alums to pressure the Administration to reign in these activities.  The faculty has no influence; this is seen as an issue related to student life and therefore beyond the purview of faculty whose area of influence is thought by some alums, students and administrators to properly end at the door to the classroom. Faculty feel differently but we will not be the ones who bring real change in student life. That has to come from alums, students and administrators.”  Ideally, she added, “The College should buy the houses and turn them into co-ed housing.”  Orleck rejects the notion that the alumni would rebel if the College eliminated the Greek institutions, noting that many alums send their children to Dartmouth, and that they should be at least as concerned as the faculty about the students’ welfare.  Orleck noted that the recent negative publicity regarding the fraternities could be an opportunity for Dartmouth to be a pioneer and to set an example for other institutions.

Jordan Osserman ’11:  “We undertook the petition to underscore our agreement with the faculty that it’s time for the administration to stop hiding behind evasive PR strategies and start openly confronting the problems that plague that the Greek System at Dartmouth. We hoped that an alumni centered petition would counter the myth that alumni unanimously support the Greek system as it stands. … I think that the petition served its purpose in terms of letting the Kim administration know that at least some alumni are fed up with the President’s uncritical support of fraternity life….  The administration has demonstrated quite clearly, over and over again, that they are not interested in addressing this issue. … My hope is that Kim’s departure will provide an opportunity for concerned students, alumni and faculty to finally step in and change things on campus for good.”

Anonymous (Female ’12, unaffiliated):  “I feel that gender segregation itself is pretty regressive and antithetical to values the LGBT community holds. I think organizations centered around a binary of masculinity and femininity oversimplify the complexity of human nature and reinforce heteronormative thinking, as well as being exclusive to those who fall outside the gender binary. I think a gender neutral system organized around affinities and common interest would be a much more positive system for all students at Dartmouth, and particularly LGBT individuals.”

Mike Lowenthal ’90 (noted for his 1990 “coming out” valedictorian speech):  “What shocks me about the recent discussion of hazing at Dartmouth is not the horror of what goes on in the fraternities but rather the notion that anyone with even a passing connection to Dartmouth could have pretended they didn’t know what goes on in those organizations. So many of us have known for so long that the frats foster the most dangerous and destructive elements in Dartmouth students, and that the system is far beyond any possibility of repair; it simply needs to be abolished. But the wealthy fraternity alumni lobby has a stranglehold on the Dartmouth administration akin to that of the National Rifle Association on the Federal government. The institution itself is bullied into submission the same way that individual fraternity members are bullied into hazing their peers.

It would be bad enough if what happened inside the fraternities only affected those who are, or aspire to be, members. But of course we all know that the fraternities’ abusive, anti-intellectual atmosphere poisons the entire community — and has especially negative consequences for women and the LGBT community.

I actually think the large majority of fraternity members are not sexist, homophobic jerks. But something about fraternity groupthink brings out the worst in people, by a kind of reverse synergy, and the result is sad and frightening. …”

Gretchen Wetzel ’77 (unaffiliated),who lives in the Upper Valley, as does her husband Bob quoted further below:

“Here are the reasons I signed the alumni petition:

1.  Unlike most, if not all, of the alumna signers, I attended Dartmouth at a time when sororities did not exist.  My last quarter was Fall ’76, and the first sorority opened in Winter ’77.  But there is no question that during my 11 quarters at Dartmouth, I received daily hazing, and I didn’t need to go into a fraternity basement to encounter it.  I was frankly terrified to accept the invitations to fraternity events that I received in my Hinman Box, likely after the fraternity brothers had scoured the ’77 Freshman Book and deemed me attractive enough to invite.  (BTW, when I walked past Tri-Kap on my way to the Choates, the men on the roof held up “7’s” and “8’s”.  Ought I to have considered myself lucky?)  So, I may not have been involved in the fraternity scene, but I knew hazing and its effects.

2.  As of the date I signed the petition, President Kim had made no public statement about the SAE hazing incident.  By omission, Kim neither respected nor acknowledged Dartmouth’s core values.  “Lest the old traditions fail…” seemed to be at the forefront of his mind; he’d already decided that altering the Greek System in any way was a battle he never intended to fight.

3.  By signing, I wished to indicate that not all Alumni support the Greek System as it currently exists.  I do not condone hazing.  I do not condone brutal pledging.  Neither Bob nor I will ever begin a sentence in this way:  “Yes, problems exist in Dartmouth’s Greek System, BUT (and then go on to say how wonderful things were in ‘our day’ or how ‘it’s really not that bad, we can handle things internally.)”  Problems exist.  They are extremely serious problems.  They need to be faced and dealt with, not endlessly explained away.

4.  I agree that an independent commission is essential to deal directly and efficiently with hazing and sexual assault.  The Administration has stalled, dodged, and weaved for too long to be trusted to handle these issues alone.

I am proud that Bob has been actively involved with his “old” fraternity:  Sigma Phi Epsilon.  Sig Ep has a national “no hazing” policy.  Sig Ep at Dartmouth was the first fraternity to have a written policy of “no tolerance” of sexual assault, and Bob was instrumental in helping the Sig Ep brothers both craft this document and then go on to educate one another and new pledges.  However, Bob had great difficulty coaxing statistics out of the Administration in order to understand if a problem existed at Sig Ep and how to best handle it.  Today, as Bob continues to insist that the Administration place hazing and sexual assault issues on formal Alumni Council and Trustee meeting agendas, he is told that the Administration doesn’t understand “why alumni in the Upper Valley are ‘so negative’, when alumni everywhere else approve of what their Councilors and Trustees are doing, and believe the College is doing all that is necessary to handle campus issues.” 

Anonymous (Female ’12, affiliated):   “I’ve been lucky enough to find a house that is accepting of women without regard to their sexuality. While I am still aware of it (my sexuality) I appreciate the effort made to be inclusive. I know of women, friends of mine in other sororities, that do not have that luxury. And it is a pity that it is a luxury to have your house not discriminate against you because of your sexuality.  In regards to the recent hazing scandal press coverage, it has brought a lot of criticism on the Greek System. While I understand that there are problems with the Greek System (big problems), I take issue with blanket characterizations that do not acknowledge the positive aspects of Greek membership.”

Bob Wetzel ’76 (affiliated):    “[Although I did not sign it,] I am in complete agreement with the sentiments of the [alumni] petition….  I have come to the conclusion that the Administration is both incapable and unwilling to confront the issue in a proactive way.  There are many reasons for this, and I won’t get into them.  Suffice it to say that it is just not in the best interests of the Administration to be proactive on these issues — otherwise they would do it.  Understand, I am NOT saying that it is not in the best interests of the College: the College is increasingly becoming a joke, and that is bad for business.

I also do not believe that the issues can or will be addressed by the fraternities themselves — at least not by the undergraduate leadership.  First of all, their tenure is much too short to have any real impact.  Second, to believe that post-adolescents have the capacity for judgment and reasoning necessary to effectively understand and respond to these issues is wishful thinking, and directly contradicted by most brain science research.  Even worse, taking post-adolescents and putting them in ‘packs’ (after all, what is a fraternity or sorority but a pack, with all its negative aspects?) is not a good way to influence their capacity for clear judgement and thoughtful reasoning.

So, what is left is for alumni and other interested parties to get involved directly in the process — and that has been my personal approach.  Since becoming Chapter Advisor for SigEp, I have worked with the undergraduates to develop a formal anti-violence policy (which clearly would extend to hazing, but includes all forms of violence); provided training and discussion sessions on violence, sexual assault and other related activities; worked with the house leadership to aggressively enforce the SigEp National no-hazing policy; and to make sure that SigEp is a welcoming and ‘safe’ place — something I consistently try to test with both male and female undergraduates I meet on and off campus.  Furthermore, we are in the process of implementing a formal zero-tolerance policy which would immediately expel from the fraternity any member who is adjudicated (by any authorized process) responsible for a sexual assault.  This is something the College is unwilling to do, and so we end up with rapists back on campus after brief suspension or probation, side by side with the people that they raped (see Dani Levin’s speech [reported in The Dartmouth January 30, 2012] for a good example of the horrors of this policy).  It is my hope that this policy will be adopted by other fraternities, effectively give the perpetrators ‘nowhere to hide’.

My bottom line is that I do not think that the existence of fraternities is the true root cause of the issue — hazing, assault, etc, happen in many more organizations than just the fraternities (and sororities).  I think that it is the enabling of adult leadership that is the primary problem; and therefore the primary source of opportunity to address the issues.  This is not about telling someone else to do something; it is about doing it yourself.

Finally, I want to address the LGBT issue as it relates to fraternities.  SigEp is one of the largest, most popular and most successful fraternities at Dartmouth — big membership, campus leaders, brand new chapter house built on fundraising from generous alumni, and, yes, a good — but safe — place to party.  What most people do not realize is that is also the house of the first openly gay fraternity brother; the first openly gay fraternity president; an open and proud transgender member; and a (to my understanding) comfortable environment for members of many ‘identifications’.  My point is that being a fraternity is NOT inconsistent with no hazing, no violence and plenty of tolerance.”

Kelly Bonnevie ’87 (unaffiliated):  During my time at Dartmouth in the mid 80’s (fall ’83 through spring ’87) the fraternities ruled the social scene at Dartmouth.

Weekends revolved around frat row and the parties there – the frats wielded a lot of social clout with few alternatives.

Much of what went on in terms of hazing at that time was fairly harmless and at worst immature (pranks, streaking, etc.), but some of it was downright dangerous (excessive drinking requiring hospitalization, sexual assaults, dehumanizing of pledges, blatant homophobia etc).

I believe it was during my freshman year (before I had come out to myself) that Tri Kap moved to expel any members “perceived to be gay.”  People were shocked and the faculty was incredulous, but that’s where we were at that time.

Then there was the frat party (’85 I believe)–can’t recall which frat–in which signs were posted ridiculing Rock Hudson who had recently announced he had AIDS.

I recall Sean O’Hearn ’86 having the word “homo” written on his dorm room door anonymously–I believe that was part of a hazing situation.  And of course there were numerous sexual assaults of women at frat parties which gave rise to the Women’s Issues League (I still chuckle that that’s what we called ourselves – it sounded antiquated even then) holding a “Take Back the Night” march at midnight in 1986.

Ethan Weinberg ’12 (affiliated):  Here’s my take on Greek Life – I have definitely seen more growth and integration in the fraternity and sorority culture over the past few years than is often appreciated. At least in Sigma Phi Epsilion or “SigEp,” my fraternity, homophobia is essentially sin, and the number of gay brothers is somewhere between 15 – 20 %. I was able to live with my boyfriend, a SigEp ’11, in the house last spring and it was a non-issue. My Greek experience has been in all quite standard and I feel very accepted by the brotherhood.

That said, it is not like that everywhere. I know of at least several other houses with openly gay brothers (Psi Upsilon, AXA, Bonesgate to name a few), and I’m sure they’ve dealt with internal homophobia but it’s hard to know what the scene looks like from the inside in those houses that don’t have any openly gay members. I would bet that most fraternities have at least one gay brother (some closeted, some not), but the varying cultures and environments definitely make it hard for me to say exactly what is going on in any other house.

On the women’s side, sororities seem to be wholly in support of queer women. Again, I’m certainly a stranger to the individual houses’ cultures, but I don’t know of any women who have come out to their sorority sisters and not been accepted. There are out women in lots of houses, and I haven’t noticed a clear divide among those who are queer and those who aren’t. Co-Eds have always been accepting as far as I know, and the Tabard is often seen as an incredibly safe space for LGBTQ individuals, members or otherwise.

Obviously the situation is more grey when non-members visit other houses, and I would imagine that the majority of incidents take place between members of a house and guests. There are houses I tend not to visit because I am not sure they are queer-friendly (and obviously also because I don’t have many friends there). I have not experienced any homophobia directly as a guest in another house, but I do not doubt that such events occur. Alcohol and bigotry tend not to mix well, and I doubt that “fag” has been entirely erased from the lexicon of all fraternities. I know less of the woman’s experience, but I am sure that Mel can shed some light on being a female queer guest in another house.

Dani Valdes ’13 (formerly affiliated):  I am part of ‘Concerned Students at Dartmouth’—a group of students who got together before Dimensions in order to bring the issues of the Greek System, hazing, sexual assault, and the culture of violence at this school, into the dialogue with prospective students and parents. As far as the message of the group is concerned, I have attached a letter to admitted students that we passed out during Horizons weekend along with a petition that read “I am a prospective Dartmouth student or parent and am concerned about the Greek system on campus”.  Also attached is the text of a pamphlet from an action that a few radical queer activists on campus did during “Talk it OUT”, a panel discussion on homophobia.  We distributed these pamphlets as a call to action and to get people talking specifically about how the Greek System related to the LGBT community.  Otherwise my opinions can only be attributed to me, even if many of my peers share similar concerns.  [Ed: We sent Dani several questions, to which she replied as below.]

1) I find it interesting that the first question asks to “characterize the influence of the Greek system on the LGBT community” [emphasis mine], as if to say, that the LGBT community and the Greek system are separate entities. They are separate entities.  In fact, I would argue that a system of social organization based on the premise of sex-segregation is inherently at odds with the principles of tolerance and respect for various sexualities and genders of the LGBT community. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greek System at Dartmouth. The Greek System imposes a heteronormative, cis-sexist culture upon all students. Never once have I felt comfortable in a fraternity or a sorority, always having to play the role either as a normative subject or a parody of my ‘othered’ self.

In terms of how the Greek system relates to other traditionally marginalized communities at Dartmouth, the Greek system fails at creating an inclusive and diverse environment. First of all fraternities dominate in the Greek scene because of their prominence in the physical spatial arrangement at Dartmouth.  (‘Frat Row’ is called ‘frat row’ even though there are two sororities and one co-ed on the same street. Only three sororities have a house and do not host nearly as many ‘open’ parties as frats.) Fraternities centralize wealth and social capital on this campus. It is expensive to be a fraternity brother, and oftentimes, students cannot work off dues. And even if they can ‘work off dues’ it comes down to a certain socio-economic class of students who have to spend time cleaning the house or doing other chores in order to be able to be part of the house. I was an active member of Tabard for a while where we experienced similar issues. Some of my friends who are sorority sisters have experienced class discrimination where poorer students have to sacrifice their time or work more jobs to be part of the house. Moreover, the longevity of the fraternity depends on donations, so people who are wealthier or likely to become wealthier are courted. Alumni networks and economic resources play a role in deciding membership, especially in sororities. Whether you attribute these issues to the way Greek houses operate at Dartmouth or to their national charters, it nonetheless adds to an environment that does not create an equal opportunity for all students on this campus. Furthermore, Greek Houses through the process of pledging, communicate an explicit message saying that pledges have to be legitimized as members through this process of initiation, through a process of changing and re-molding your identity. This, of course, affects every minority group on campus. There are a myriad of other issues relating to people of color, transgender students (which are completely ignored and ridiculed!). I have been ridiculed for advocating for gender-neutral bathrooms. But for the sake of time and your deadline I will move on to other questions.

2) Am I aware of incidents of verbal or physical intimidation? Ironically, last night I reported an incidence of verbal homophobic harassment to S&S. My girlfriend and I were verbally harassed in 53’ Commons, or “foco.” In a public space we were cat-called and verbally harassed for showing each other affection. It was humiliating and made me feel unsafe. Last year someone carved ‘fag’ into my Hinman Box. Phi Delta brothers have more than once thrown bottles of alcohol at Tabard (we are neighbors) while yelling homophobic slurs such as “faggots.” My friends have been called ‘fag’ and other slurs. There is no shortage of incidents of harassment towards LGBT students on campus.

3) There are some LGBT students who are more comfortable than others in the Greek system. I think the reasons are oftentimes very personal. In most houses you can find one “out” person (although no trans* people, not currently, and I do know a handful of trans* and gender-queer people on campus), who claim to feel completely comfortable in their space. As with other minority communities the exception to the rule does not prove the rule. Saying that you are ‘gay’ and comfortable in your ‘frat’ does not mean that gay people are comfortable in your fraternity in general. Similarly, to say that a fraternity is a homophobic space is not the same as saying that every LGBT person necessarily feels uncomfortable in that space. Single-sex or sex-segregated spaces are inherently alienating and disempowering to LGBT people because these spaces police gender and therefore, by implication, police sexuality. The fact that Greek houses operate under heteronormative social codes that police gender and sexuality disempowers LGBT people and renders them incapable of claiming authority in the space. The reality is that Greek Houses, both sororities and fraternities, are policed spaces where gender norms are upheld.

4) Students have raised complaints about the Greek system and until now I would characterize the response as attempted appeasement. The college has done a remarkable job at setting up committees in order to foster dialogue on campus. However, I would like to see an end to this charade of discourse, a puppet show of bigotry disguised as tolerance. Committees are made and run by the administration, the students are chosen by the administration, and oftentimes the committees do not hold open meetings. Committees deal with issues internally oftentimes neglecting real transparency. Dialogue is essential, but more has to be done. In times of struggle, administrators and professors have always been the ones who have reached out to me and supported me. There are resources available for people who experience acts of violence related to the Greek system, however, unfortunately, violence is ubiquitous on this campus and nothing has been done that would structurally allow minority students the same access to the space.

5) I think the role of alumni is extremely important. Speaking out is extremely important for current undergrads and for alumni. For students an empowering thing is to know the history of LGBT people on this campus. Watching Michael Lowenthal’s valedictorian speech, for example, reinvigorated passion in the struggle for justice among me and my friends/fellow activists on this campus.  What I think we all need is honesty—honesty from alumni about their experiences so we can be honest about what is happening to us.

6) As a history major the question of positive “trends” or “developments” always troubles me. The struggle for justice is as old as the creation of any exclusive institution. I am not sure how to answer this question—considering the past few years at Dartmouth, where a president left for the World Bank after just three years here, when we have the highest rates of rape and sexual assault out of any Ivy, where my own coming out process has been extremely difficult (and yet incredibly wonderful because of the friends I have made here), where the few grassroots activists have been physically and verbally harassed daily, with racial, sexist and homophobic slurs are frequently uttered, —it is hard for me to gather evidence for positive trends. Hopefully, with the coming of a new president, if she/he is aware of all these issues and wants to help all students who by virtue of being students are equally entitled to the institution’s resources, then there could be some change.

Michael Bronski, Senior Lecturer, Women’s and Gender Studies:  “The only people who have power to change the present Greek system are the administration and the Board of Trustees.  I believe the Board has the ultimate power, but I don’t think that they are inclined to use it.  You saw that with [former President] Jim Wright – Jim said “They have to go; we’ll replace them with other things,” and it was all moving and the Board said “yes” and then the Board changed their mind under pressure.  So the Board has the final say.   The new interim president [Carol Folt] could really lobby the Board, say that this is a public relations nightmare; if we don’t deal with this now it will only get worse, but it’s still up to the Board. 

        What I hear from LGBT students is that there is a lot of routine verbal and physical harassment against them in fraternity basements.   A student who registered for one of my winter term classes this year who was a freshman and who was openly gay dropped out of school two weeks into the winter term; he told me he was tired of being called a faggot in all of the fraternities and being physically harassed – pushed and stuff.    The gay mentoring program, I heard from several people, advises LGBT entering freshmen what frats not to go to because they’re actually dangerous to go to. 

        It’s not unusual to be called faggot crossing the Green at night; it’s not unusual to be called faggot in a frat; and I’ve spoken with closeted athletes who say that that kind of language is common in the locker rooms.  And there is a close connection between the teams and the fraternities.  When recruited athletes first come to campus they are almost immediately de facto members of the fraternity that is associated with their sport.  And high school tends to weed out or to deeply closet any gay kids. 

        There has been no real reaction to the faculty open letter.  President Kim made it clear that he had no intention of changing the Greek system.  Of course the College says that it is against hazing except when you look at what they do about it – almost nothing.  It’s an open secret that hazing happens.”

Tyler Ford ’11 (affiliated):  When I read about some of the terrible experiences minority students experience in and because of the greek system at Dartmouth, I can’t help but feel specially blessed.  My experience as an openly gay brother of Sigma Phi Epsilon was one of the most empowering, and frankly fun, experiences of my life.  I truly believe that my brothers accepted me for who I am, not in spite of it.  This feeling came about because over the course of my three years in the house, I witnessed acts of inclusion and support that I didn’t believe happened anywhere.  My house frequently hosts discussions about LGBT inclusivity; gay brothers hold leadership positions from social chair to house man to president; we host the PRIDE party; gay brothers proudly bring dates of the same sex to house formals and date event.  I was nearly brought to tears when SigEp welcomed back a transgender alumna of the house for an evening of discussion and conversation about trans issues.  That talk was attended by over 90% of the house membership. 

Every fraternity at Dartmouth is not SigEp.  The greek system is anything but perfect.  Homophobia lingers on our campus.  But one need only stroll through campus on PRIDE week of 2012 and see nearly every fraternity, sorority, and coed house fly a rainbow flag in support of the LGBT community to understand that the fraternity system is not the bastion of homophobia and exclusion that it’s sometimes claimed to be.  I’m a gay fraternity brother of Dartmouth and I couldn’t be more proud of my house.

Mike Amico ’07 (affiliated):  As described more below, my main point is that the emotional reality of the issue goes unremarked, un-theorized really: we need a language to talk about the pleasure people find in the Greek system that roots that pleasure structurally. And I think it’s fascinating that this is the obverse of: “We need a language to talk about the horribleness people find in the Greek system that roots that horribleness structurally.” 

My ‘take’ on the Greek system is complicated because the emotional reality of students’ relationships to not only the Greek system, but Dartmouth as a whole, is complicated.

Let’s start with the problem: not the Greek system per se, but how we talk about it. The problem is that there are essentially only two positions: 1. it’s horrible (discriminating, abusive, oppressive, and so on) and 2. Kim’s ‘the only problem with the Greek system is a PR problem’ … The people who take position 1 are usually members of or speaking for socially-marginalized groups, while mainstream groups and their spokespeople (white, privileged men and women, etc.) take the second.

These two sides are not just positions; they frame the entire discussion. They set the parameters, and as a consequence, nothing new is said.

Both sides don’t ‘get’ each other. Side 2 doesn’t hear the necessity for change that side 1 usually articulates: get rid of the Greek system or make it co-ed. Making it co-ed is a good idea; getting rid of the Greek system is a non-idea: it’s reactionary, has not been thought through, and is a sign that side 1 has not fully respected the nuances of side 2. So what side 1 is not hearing, as in, taking seriously, is what side 2 implicitly foregrounds: a real affection, attraction even, for the Greek system.

What’s missing is simply the combination of what each side is not hearing. So that for both sides it would be tough-to-hear and thus left unspoken: a language to talk about the pleasure people find in the Greek system that roots that pleasure structurally. This is obviously the obverse of the usual (side 1) position, which is, “We need a language to talk about the horribleness people find in the Greek system that roots that horribleness structurally.” But what this ignores is the emotional reality that comes to the surface when the parts of each side that can’t be heard combine. As Andrew Lohse puts it, “I must concede that, happily or tragically, many of my most poignant experiences here have dealt with fraternity life.” This quote is from his Oct. 6, 2011 opinion piece for The D, but it was also quoted in Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone article. Reitman more or less ignored and buried the quote in that article; it should have been the organizing principle: how do we understand how people come to like what should be, at face value, horrible, disgusting, insulting, and so on? Maybe we’re not quite understanding how pleasure works, what exactly is horrible or unfair, why people might enjoy the idea of not having a choice in being hazed, etc. These are not easy questions; they are the hardest ones. (They are a lot harder than the typical, ‘let’s face the facts and reality’ talk about how bad the Greek system is that likes to masquerade as the truth-telling brigade.) This is because this line of thinking structurally about pleasure basically says, ‘Despite how ‘wrong’ I see fraternity culture at-large, as specified in its hazing, to be, I kind of loved it and hated it, or loved it because I hated it, or hated it because I loved it… Ah!!!!!’ Twenty years later, these feelings will become like those of many D-GALA alums I have heard at D-GALA reunions: ‘Dartmouth was a horrible place when I was here, but here I am, back again and giving money. Retrospectively, I loved Dartmouth.’

 Yes, meaning accrues retrospectively in many ways, but maybe this also means that experiences, in the moment, sometimes cannot, no matter how hard we try, make immediate sense–even as we continue to want to fit them into our progressive liberal worldview (position 1) or our conservative ‘traditional’ one (position 2).

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