Dartmouth frat gets 3-term probation for hazing

A Dartmouth College fraternity accused of hazing has been put on probation for three terms and ordered to participate in an extensive series of educational programs.

A judicial panel of students, faculty and staff found Sigma Alpha Epsilon guilty of hazing for driving blindfolded pledges off-campus in 2009, expecting them to drink shots of saltwater or alcohol and expecting them to enter a kiddie pool filled with condiments. But the panel said there was not enough evidence to back up the more egregious allegations made by former member Andrew Lohse, who went public in January with descriptions of the "dehumanizing" experiences he said he witnessed at the fraternity.

In a column for the school newspaper, Lohse said the fraternity pressured pledges to swim in a kiddie pool of rotten food, vomit and other bodily fluids; eat omelets made of vomit; and chug cups of vinegar. He called those activities the norm rather than the exception on the Hanover campus, and he criticized the administration for not doing enough when he made anonymous complaints last year.

On Wednesday, he called the sanctions against SAE further proof that the Ivy League school isn't serious about addressing the broad problem of hazing in the Greek system.

Lohse said the college is sending a message to fraternities that they needn't worry, and essentially telling prospective students and their parents: "We care more about maintaining a broken status quo than we do about instituting real change to protect the health and vitality of our undergraduates. If your child wants to do the right thing and speak up about wrongdoing, or if your child is hazed or sexually assaulted, they simply won't find a friend in an administration more concerned with PR than people."

Based on Lohse's allegations, Dartmouth charged the fraternity and 27 students, including Lohse, with hazing in February, but dropped the individual charges last month.

In a campus-wide letter sent last week, a college official said the judicial panel reached its conclusion after extensive interviews and a review of more than 300 pages of evidence. In addition to being put on probation, the fraternity must adopt a new member education plan to be approved by the college, establish an advisory board to implement it and participate in alcohol education programs. The probationary period covers the current spring term and the upcoming summer and fall terms, ending in late November.

While both college policy and state law prohibit hazing, college officials would be naive to say it does not occur, wrote April Thompson, associate dean of campus life.

"We know it does, which is why, when confronted with allegations, we will immediately investigate and take appropriate action," she said. "This is a challenging and complex issue that demands community engagement."

Since Lohse came forward, the college has formed a task force, and administrators say they see hazing as part of a larger problem, tied together with binge drinking and sexual assault. They point to the National College Health Improvement Project the college launched last year as one of the steps they've taken to address all three.

The fraternity's president did not respond to email requests for comment Wednesday.