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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.

Memory

– 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?

Static-Free Presence

– Topher Endress

I am in a course right now that focuses on both practical counseling skills and the theological/philosophical context for such care. It has quickly become my favorite class, despite the heavy reading and writing work load. Each day before any lesson is taught, we spend the first 5 minutes in intentional silence. While it may seem like a waste of time or money (because I am paying to learn from my master’s), it has been contrarily a source of refreshment and powerful education.

Margaret Kornfeld, an author probably no one but me is familiar with since I’m pretty sure I’m the only one taking Pastoral Care and Theology courses, writes about the baggage each of us walks into situations with. From a counselor’s perspective, it would be very unhealthy and unhelpful to have previous client’s issues still on your mind when a new client arrives. The trick is recognizing what is going on in your own mind, addressing it, removing from your thoughts and then allowing yourself to be fully present with whomever is around you. Yes, it is important for therapists and counselors, but this is important both for and to those being listened to.

As brothers (now and always, until the day we die), we have an obligation to provide space for each other to be heard, listened to and cared for. This is a remarkable opportunity on the flip side, as it is increasingly rare in American culture to have a solid support group. Each of us has, at various times, a slew of of issues that could be helpful to contextualize within the schema of life. Having caring brothers around allows for growth through self-reflection. In order to do this, though, our own thoughts and presuppositions must be removed. Our focus on tertiary things (like schoolwork to be done, ladies to impress, parties to prep for, businesses to start, etc.) when in conversation with others is what is known as “static.” We carry this into interactions and lose out on true connections because of it. Often, it is completely justifiable why we hold on to these thoughts – emotional connections to situations (as in, you just had a family member die and cannot remove them from your thoughts), necessary logistical work (like upcoming papers or tests), or even just items that are more interesting or engaging than what is currently happening (seriously, is that girl single?). But justified or not, bringing static in only hinders effective communication and as a result, retards care.

Taking time to empty ones thoughts before engaging a brother is a sure sign of intentional caring. Now, I don’t think every, or even most, interactions warrant this mentality; however, some conversations clearly do. This is the challenge – when a difficult or important topic arises, take a moment to center yourself and focus solely on the other person. This allows us not to paint their words with our own beliefs, and truly hearing someone is one of the most helpful ways to care for them.

This may only be useful once or twice in your college career. If you make a point of opening yourself to being static-free, it will likely happen more and more. Regardless, let yourself be marked by a totally open listening stance. The men around you need it just as you need it from them.

Chartering Thoughts

– Topher Endress

I received an email from a brother who is writing up a story about our chartering experience, asking me to weigh in on some basic questions (I believe a few other brothers were asked to do this as well).  I will be interested in reading the whole story soon enough, but I feel like the entire CHAPTER might be interested to see what I gleaned from our roughly 39 hours together.  His questions are italicized.

 

What did it mean to you to sign the charter?

– Despite its opportunity for reflection, and my own personal belief on the importance of keeping oneself in the present, signing the charter was for me a future-focused act. I could not help but imagine what the charter would look like hanging proudly on a wall in the next 20, 30, or even 50 years from now. I hope that our charter sends a clear message to the future brothers of Lambda Chapter – that because of the hard work poured in at the foundation, they are free and able to put in the hard work necessary to advance our mission. While it was certainly an honor, a charter means very little with out the promise of a future which continues to uphold our values.

What are you most proud of Lambda for during this process?

– While the actions of Lambda during the colonization and chartering processes have certainly been commendable, it is the way in which these men came together that has most impressed me. While it would be understandable, or seem unavoidable, for a group of 40 collegiate men to have divisions or interpersonal strife, I will contend that Lambda understands the spirit of brotherhood perhaps more so than any other virtue. I am proud to call these men my brothers, not simply because of our shared experience of the Ritual, but because of an intentional dedication to seeing the value in each of those around us. There is a sense of overwhelming brotherly love which underscores our actions, regardless of how difficult or frustrating our situations can be.

How do you think the chapter will do now that ya’ll have achieved this goal?

– While it is true that our chapter will necessarily seek a new set of specifics to reach, it is also true that we have not yet satisfied our goal. Chartering was but one important and necessary step en route to attaining our large-scope mission: changing the culture of Greek life by redefining what a fraternity is and what a fraternity is capable of. As long as we continue to have this goal to press on toward, our undergraduate brothers, as well as our alumni brothers, will continue to pour forth the hard work that got us to this point.

Why did you put in the work to get a colony chartered instead of joining an already established group on campus?

– Joining ΦΚΤ less than 14 months before I graduated allowed me to more fully comprehend how limited and valuable our time can be. Having spent several years in college, I knew well the dangers of wasting time on unworthy tasks. Seeing their hard work and commitment to service, well before even colonizing, proved to me that these men were not simply creating a group to occupy their time. Right from the start, it was abundantly clear that they were enjoining men together not for the purpose of throwing better parties or having another line for their resume, but so that the resonance of their impact on the world might be felt more powerfully. Such a clear invitation to stand united with men of similar values against a flow of culture seemingly bend on regression could not be ignored.

What was your favorite memory from this weekend?

– This chartering weekend was filled with many highlights, forming a fount of memories that will hopefully last for a lifetime. One particular moment that does stand out, however, was the time immediately following my initiation ceremony. Being in the last pair to go through the Ritual, it was easy to see a clear difference in excitement before and after we were done. While my brothers were naturally very excited to see me and my fellow associate finally become brothers, there was also an implicit understanding that now that all of us had taken care of the individualistic parts, we could, as a group, finally charter. In this moment of palpable excitement, one could clearly see how important chartering was to this group.

Do you agree/disagree with any of my assessments?  How would you have answered these questions?

Tolerance =/= Shared Belief

Topher Endress

So I majored in Organizational Leadership, which made be one of the most ironic things to have ever happened to Purdue.  I have zero organization in my personal life, which is why I am just now posting this blog.  I wrote it in a notebook sometime mid-Spring, but just now found it to type it out.  So, I’m making some changes to it to make it more relevant to what is happening today.

Here is an excellent question: How should Men of Character treat deep-seated beliefs?  Is it more in line with our ideal of manliness to hold fast to personal convictions, or to accept the view’s of others?

I love this question because it has a huge impact on all of us – everyone has their own personal beliefs (and if you don’t, check on this post).  Maybe you are a die-hard Republican, or are ardently pro-choice, or you hold a specific value or belief set to be higher than anything.  As Phi Taus, we have our own values and ideals that we affirm, which will be further clarified this Friday as we initiate (w00t woot!).  Whatever it is, chance are you have a personal reason for affirming it.  So the question of whether a Man of Character upholds his personal convictions or if he can accept the convictions of those around him is highly relevant to each of us.  I have three responses to this question: Uphold your values, Accept his values, Be humble enough to bridge the gap.

1. Uphold your own convictions.  I’m going to lay this paradigm down – Men of Character should have strong convictions.  If the convictions are strong, you owe it to yourself as a true man to not just uphold them, but to allow them to surface and be known through both word and action.  In class today (note: this was originally written in the Sping), a professor mentioned politics, then immediately assured us that he wouldn’t share his own political view.  To me, this sounds like he doesn’t really care enough about those beliefs.  If his values aren’t important enough to share, why hold them for yourself?  Conviction that doesn’t make you want to share it and live it out isn’t conviction at all – and if you aren’t grounded in something, you will bend to anything.  That being said, you should still always…

2. Accept the other person’s values.  THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU SHARE OR AFFIRM HIS VALUES.  If you have differing beliefs, then to affirm something that conflicts is to deny what you hold to be true.  But accepting, not affirming, means that you can tolerate and understand their position in a way that give their values system its fair due.  I’ll be dealing with this a ton for the next few years – within the Div School, we have a huge range of thoughts on the same subject matter.  I need to be aware and accepting of views (feminist, masculinist, universalist, limited, reformed, evangelical, mainline, pluralist, post-modern, allegorical, patriarchical, trinitarian…. ad naseum), but aware that understanding the view held by a classmate or professor doesn’t mean I need to come to the same conclusions.  You will invariably come in contact with other men and women who do not share your world view – other fraternities who have different philosophies, non-fraternal organizations who disagree with fraternity life, anarchists who enjoy recreational arson – but a Phi Tau can accept and respect a non-brother.  However, accepting their view for what it is, and not shaping it into what you think it is or what you think it should be, does not mean that you affirm or agree with them.  How undermining to your own life choices would it be if each time you spent time with non-Greeks you disregarded our creed, only to re-affirm it in the presence of brothers?  Accept that people have different views, but hold fast to your own.  To do that, you will need…

3.  Humbleness, which leads to bridging idealistic gaps.  Sometimes, we meet someone with ideas so out there that we feel the need to change them ourselves.  As a natural debater, this is something I struggle with daily.  However, no matter how much we feel that they are wrong, we cannot force our beliefs or ideals upon them.  Values and world views must be crafted by individuals, even if we are 100% confident that we are right and they are wrong.  Despite our confidence in our position, we must realize that we are merely human.  We do not know for certain what life’s secrets are, nor can we accurately predict the future.  Recognizing that we are fallible, let’s start to agree that our insistance on someone else affirming our beliefs is often a symptom of pride, rather than a focus on education.  It can hurt when someone disagrees with us, especially when it is someone we care about.  But that hurt is usually coming from a deflated sense of ego.  Especially in this beginning of the year, it is colossally important to understand the difference in being disregarded as a person versus being disagreed with.  Please do not let a different of opinion separate your from a brother – college is to short to spend time apart from your brothers over petty arguments.  The skill of humbleness must be learned and practiced.  Try to recognize when you are talking out of conviction and when you are talking out of pride.

In short, don’t be bull-headed about your beliefs.  Walk that fine line between belief and questioning.  But if you have come to solid conclusions, don’t be afraid to stand strong in them.  And always remember to accept your brothers, even when you disagree with them.

Question/Answer #4

– Topher Endress

Mom asked me this while I was in town over the weekend, but this one of those questions that deserves a discussion.  So start commenting with your ideas.

Question: How can I live up my senior year?

There are several brothers about to join D-Rose and I as alumni after this semester (Campbell is not one of them – apparently he just wants to be very well prepared).  As someone who had 4 semesters of senior year, I feel that I can posit some advice.

It should hurt when you leave.

Seriously. There is a reason that things end, and appreciating the inevitability of moving on will make you a happier, more well-adjusted person. As Men of Character, we will be moving into newer and bigger stages several times throughout our lives. As our National Blog recently reminded us, the world needs us. We are needed to move the world forward while the culture around us seems bent on regressing. And that means that leaving Purdue will not be the last time we need to change our setting. So, consider this your Senior Year: Part 1.

But just because it is necessary doesn’t mean it should be easy. It shouldn’t be. Leaving your friends and all of your customs from the past 4/5 years is a psychologically and emotionally trying time. As it should be.

Life is hard. Losing people is difficult. Changing so much of your life had better not be easy. Which is exactly why you should work to make leaving even harder.

First, here’s how. Life is all about relationships, so invest in the people around you. You have a finite amount of time to impact the people around you – let them know what they mean to you. This is the time to spend copious amounts of quality time with not just your brothers, but your classmates, other friends, roommates and professors. I challenge each of you to have a major, deep, open-heart conversation with at least 10 people that you haven’t with before. These deep conversations not only link you together as friends, but teach you about yourself.  (For more on this, check out a past blog here)

Also, live up the college lifestyle. Not in the “let’s party until our livers forcibly try to escape” kind of way, but in the eating pizza at 3 am, staying up late with study partners, going to college games, playing ball at the Co-Rec, volunteering during the day, taking funny pictures around the bell tower, going on fountain runs kind of way. The things that BGR told you to have fun with.  You have an amazing opportunity to use the time and space around you. Purdue is a world-class university with a unique culture and incredible set of opportunities.  Find something to do and keep yourself busy.  Anyone can sit around and play MW3; not everyone can walk through the Sidewinder (the weird stick-art behind Pao).  If you can use all of your time for something, be it growing closer to the people around you or throwing yourself in Purdue culture, you will build a Senior Year worthy of pining its loss.

Leaving will be hard.  Sure, you’ll likely be moving on to great things (like moving to Nashville – where you can always feel free to come visit/stay/live in my side yard) and you should rightly be excited by the next steps in life.  But I guarantee there will come a time when you get the urge to go see Bruce and can’t, to grab a quick Den Pop and can’t, to grab  a nap in the Union and can’t, want to run to Wiggins to chill for an hour between classes and can’t and it hits home that life has already been happening.  And not only has it been happening, but a section of your life has passed by, never to come back.  You may not cry, but you will assuredly lament the death of an era.  I urge you to take it all in now, while you have the chance to appreciate it.  Don’t let the fact that it will hurt to give it up keep you from putting everything you have into that year.  Give yourself fully, and let it be taken from you anyway.

And that will mean something. It will mean that you can take the gut punch of loss and still move forward. It will show you that there is a darker side to life – pain, disappointment, regrets. Because if we as Men don’t see the darkness, how can we spread our light where it is needed? College is a time of preparation. Prepare yourself for the inevitable loss that comes after doing a job well. Because I expect you to be needed elsewhere, and you have to be able to pull yourself away to get there. Make your impact, waste no moments, leave nothing on the table, then go forth and do it all again.