Archive for the ‘ Recruitment ’ Category

In Defense of Andrew Lohse

– Topher Endress

It has recently come to light that Andrew Lohse, a former Dartmouth SAE,  has revealed not just fraternity secrets but intimate stories of hazing. The details are as gruesome as anyone might expect, which you can read about in the original Rolling Stone article here.  And for this, the non-Greek community has generally raked Greek life over the coals, lambasting the “cult of Greek life” for being an institution that could allow such practices. These criticisms, though largely valid, are also stemming from a lack of knowledge concerning actual fraternity life. Most of those reporting on news of hazing and culture frankly are offering opinions shaded with lens that haven’t been in the systems.  There are several ‘in house’ sites that have taken this story on, though, with opinions and commentary from men and women from Greek backgrounds.  However, it saddens me that I felt it necessary to write this critique in light of these writings, as many of these stories seem to be coming from pro-hazing web sites.

Total Frat Move, a comedy website that I will admit to reading, recently produced an article critical of Andrew Lohse using arguments and structure similar to an article that would defend rape by attacking women. It is against this that I must take a stand.  When it comes to a story that is so intimately tied to fraternity culture, I want to read commentary by someone who knows what that means.  However, all I have read from pro-frat sites sickens me.  The TFM post announcing the content of Lohse’s leaked book proposal immediately attacks college newspapers as being run by geeds who are fed up with being kicked out of frat parties.  The author (going by the name Sratire) then attacks Ivy League education by mocking Lohse’s word choice.  His intentions are immediately assumed to be ignoble at best – either making money or simply by dragging friends’ names through the mud.  I can barely contain my rage when I read this ensuing paragraph:

“Really, having followed this story since well before it was covered nationally, the most remarkable fact is not the drug use or his tales of pledgeship, but rather that both this man and the original whistleblower were able to go through rush and pledgeship next to the other brothers and then engage in this behavior. If, as a member of an organization, you feel concerned about drug use or hazing, it is your responsibility to speak directly with those involved and try to better both that person as an individual and the group as a whole rather than to silently cultivate an attitude of moral superiority.”

Clearly, Sratire is unfamiliar with the current thought processes of abusive relationships, where often women are technically free to leave or stand up at any moment but psychologically or emotionally cannot do so.  In a system like a Greek house, the overwhelming culture makes it difficult to stand against the tide.  Perhaps if only one or two brothers were responsible for the drug use and hazing, there would be a case here – the other 40 men could overwhelm their culture instead.  But what Lohse is writing about is a systematic and institutionalized culture that works to change to mindset of these young men.  It cannot be easily broken.  There is no quick fix and standing up for oneself, while noble, is not quite as easy as TFM seems to think.

The language here is an issue.  Instead of attacking the problem of hazing, distancing themselves from the disturbing and illegal practices going on at Dartmouth, TFM mocks the very idea that hazing is an issue.  Imagine the uproar if someone were to write this exact same article about a proposed book on a rape event.  Only a few slight details need to be changed for continuity and you have the beginning of one of the most insensitive articles you should ever hope to read.  The mentality is the same – by blaming the victim instead of the institution, no changes have to be taken.  They can live with what they’ve done or what they’re doing because the blame is no longer focused on the actions.  Sure, should Lohse really be sharing all of SAE’s secrets?  Probably not.  But he is absolutely right in blowing the whistle on hazing.  Any defense of author-victimization or institutionalized hazing shows me that the author really doesn’t care about what makes a fraternity a fraternity (or a sorority a sorority).

So yes, anyone who takes issue with a practice needs to speak up.  But it is not incumbent upon them to change an organization.  A fraternity, like Phi Kappa Tau, must be vigilant for practices that will make men uncomfortable.  I am proud to say that if someone were to write an exposé on Lambda Chapter, I would not feel any need to distance myself from any of our actions.  Lets be real, the closest we’ve ever come to hazing was trying (often unsuccessfully) to get guys to sing Disney songs at karaoke nights.  But eventually, a time will come when someone suggests an activity that makes someone uncomfortable – but that they feel a need to be a part of.  It will be up to everyone to put an end to anything like that well before it starts.  More than that, though, we must actively take a stand against the silent condonation of hazing that members of the Greek community apparently are taking.  Not a single TFM comment offers any sort of “hey, hazing is pretty bad” opinion.  Instead, every single comment either mocks him for being gay (which he is not, and that type of language used as insults is offensive for far too many reasons to include here) or for being a liar (which seems unlikely).  No one wants to face their own demons.

Men, hazing is a problem.  And condoning hazing is a problem.  And we all know this.  But pretending that hazing isn’t happening is also a problem.  Pretending that pledges feel free to stop any action they aren’t comfortable with at any moment is a problem.  Frankly, no matter how careful you are with traditional pledgeship, there will always be the issue of newer guys trying to fit in and feel accepted.  Peer pressure happens almost regardless of intentionality.  Maybe we don’t have the “sink baptism” of SAE, but any time someone thinks they have to do something that is against their own conscious in order to fit in, we have failed just as badly.  As these new men are receiving bids, understand that becoming a traditional frat means fighting a losing battle against a culture war.  We should never be considered anything less than different.  I don’t have the answers, but I know that the answers do not involve ignoring, condoning or participating in any sort of hazing.  Ever.



– Topher Endress

At first glance, it would seem nothing is as intimate as one’s memory.  Private scenes playing in your head, often so real you can nearly taste them, hear them, feel them, with words not doing the feelings and pictures justice.  How could anyone else have the same memories that you do?  Despite this, I contend that memories are not the beacon of individuality that one might expect.

Instead, memory is a social institution. We have collective memories – sharing major experiences like 9/11 in our lifetimes, Pearl Harbor in our grandparents’, the release of the ipod, landing on the moon, the Challenger disaster, Hummel’s block against Wisky my freshman year (that was a world event in my eyes), etc. Moving away from global or national perspectives, we still have regionalist memories like earthquakes, winning sports teams (’07 Colts, baby!) and other highly-talked about events.  Group dynamics need historical components, or shared memories, to connect the current with the past and to allow the future to be connected as well.  We do not live in a bubble.  We are inherently effected by what goes one around us, and what has gone on before us.  As such, we need to know what those who have come before have done and how it changed them.  One of my most clear memories of Chartering weekend was listing to Dave Wozniak shares stories of sharing life with his brothers post-college, mostly because I know that those experiences are shaping our chapter today.  It is important to hear both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ from older men if we are to learn about where we are right now.

Of course, if we are to learn important lessons from those who have come before us, by logical extension we should share our own stories of who we were and who we are, individually and communally. We should be telling stories of why we joined Phi Tau and what it gave us.  Otherwise, the past stops impacting the present and cannot shape the future.  The new guys, younger guys, older guys and alumni all deserve to have a space in this storie-sharing cycle.  If we want Lambda to flourish, it will come from being able to transmit the knowledge of the past onto the present and applying it to the future.

What kind of stories can you share with the men around you?  What do those stories tell them about who you are and what you believe in?  What do your stories tell others about your experience in Phi Tau, and what do they make them think about the organization?

Don Quixote

– Topher Endress

Last night, someone asked me to name some of my favorite books. As I was explaining why I like each of these books, I got to thinking about book number 3: Don Quixote. The basic narrative follow the man so enraptured by old stories of chivalry that he refashions his entire world, casting himself as a brave knight standing against the forces of darkness (who are often simple, confused townsfolk). The novel is amazing for several reasons, but I think that’s the reason I enjoy it so much is that it point out two very important truths.

As a general rule, men want to both belong to something larger than themselves and to matter enough to make a difference. The Man de la Mancha didn’t just fantasize about being a knight. Being a knight had meaning. There was a senseof of shared values and shared practices. Knights from all over Western Europe had a code of ethics that they practiced. When someone saw a knight, they knew something about them – it was a community, a culture, an ideal that bound them all together. Don Quixote is in part a story about a longing to belong, not just among men, but to something larger than oneself.

It isn’t enough simply to belong, though. Once a part of the group, men look to have roles that are important. Not only do we need work, we need to know that we matter. Quixote needed to rescue the beautiful Dulcinea, infusing purpose into his role. Goals are important; without them we tend to drift aimlessly through life, not putting forth the amount of effort we are capable of. Devoting himself totally to his cause, within the context of knighthood, allowed Don Quixote to satisfy two of man’s largest needs.

Recruitment is both important and necessary. As Lambda Chapter, you owe it to the men on campus to provide a space for them to be important and a context to do it in. The best way you can attract Men of Character is to show your brotherly love for each other very obviously and to display how being in community allows you to impact your world more powerfully; act these out in front if recruits and the ones you want will be drawn to you.  Those that care about partying and social rank will see that Phi Kappa Tau is honest and committed and will not look to stay. But the men who are introspective enough to realize these two great truths will see Phi Kappa Tau, Lambda Chapter, as a space to both pursue life’s great motivators and to learn from them.

Hearing versus Experiencing

– Topher Endress

So as I wrote in my first photo gallery on this thing, I spent the week after Finals at a camp in Michigan.  Technically, I was working by running the rides (like the 80 foot giant swing), but I spent most of my time either hanging out with some of the people I knew up there or reflecting by myself.  It was a great time, and I’m really glad I got the chance to unwind for the week.  No matter what my experience was like, though, I won’t be able to bring you fully into it.

I have spent several weeks throughout the last eight years at this camp, and as I walked across the main field or into the dining hall, my memories of time spent as a camper, as a first-time leader/authority figure, as a college student taking a road trip and as a worker all combined to give me an emotional connection to each place at camp.  I remember freaking out in midair during my first blob experience, I remember learning how to kayak in the lake, I remember sitting with a seventh-grader as he cried about his family life outside of the snack shop, I remember trying to encourage someone stuck with fear on the ropes course.  I can’t separate the experiences from the place, and that made this last trip much more meaningful.

However, this isn’t limited to camps.  We’ve all spent years on campus and with our brothers, creating our own memories and experiences.  And while we can explain what has happened to someone else, we can never relive that moment in a way that includes them.  I remember my first experience with Phi Tau – helping a local baseball park open for the spring.  No matter how vividly I might paint that picture, even with the smell of the grass and the feeling of dirt in my hands included, the new brothers who were not there will never be a part of that moment’s brotherhood and service.

I love that camp in Michigan.  But if I want someone else to love my camp, I can’t just tell them about what I did while I was there.  I can’t just show them a picture or two of what the area looks like.  To love it, to know it, they need to be there and participate.  And just like my camp, Phi Tau is something that must be experienced.  The simple act of inviting recruits into something that we truly believe in – be it leadership, service or learning – will allow them to know what Phi Kappa Tau is and will weed out those looking only to party.

Having that service experience as my first Phi Tau event changed many of my opinions on fraternity life.  I feel that I grew quite a bit over the course of that day, not because the work was so incredible but because it was an invitation into the service of this group.  I didn’t care that our colony said they wanted to have a focus on service and philanthropy.  I cared that I actually served.  Resting on the fruit of our past work will attract no one but those who merely want to talk the talk without doing the work.  As we look forward to Fall Rush, let’s remember that actions speak louder than words.  And the invitation to action, to experience, is what will draw in the Men of Character we are searching for.