March 2 (Bloomberg) -- Dartmouth College will create a task force to investigate hazing at fraternities and sororities on campus after a column in the student newspaper detailed abuses at the school’s Greek houses.
The group of students, faculty and staff will be formed in the next few weeks and will address safety and accountability at the school’s Hanover, New Hampshire, campus, Justin Anderson, a spokesman, said today in a phone interview.
“It’s the behavior that is the issue here,” Anderson said. “There’s nothing inherent about the Greek system that leads to hazing. There’s nothing inherent about sports teams that leads to hazing.”
In the January column, senior Andrew Lohse described taking part in degrading rituals involving bodily fluids to join a fraternity, and a culture of drunkenness and misogyny that he said has been tolerated by the college. The article spurred a petition from alumni calling for an independent probe and renewed calls from faculty to ban single-sex fraternities and sororities on campus.
“There’s great social pressure at Dartmouth about joining a fraternity,” Lohse said in an interview in January. “You’re told this is part of becoming a Dartmouth man.”
Almost 68 percent of eligible students at Dartmouth are members of fraternities and sororities, also called Greek organizations. A “culture of impunity” surrounds the Greek system, Annelise Orleck, professor of history at Dartmouth, said today in a phone interview.
“I’ve been here 21 years, and in that time the faculty voted at least twice to abolish the Greek system,” she said. “And we don’t agree on anything.”
The faculty letter with more than 100 signatures was published in the school newspaper calling for an independent commission to investigate hazing, Orleck said. A similar alumni letter is also in circulation, she said.
“There’s a lot of fear of a loss in alum contributions,” she said. “There are strong ties between trustees and many Greek houses and, as a result, there hasn’t been a serious attempt” to address the issue.
The college tried to reduce the role of fraternities and sororities in the past. Former President James Wright was criticized by alumni in 1999 for trying to regulate the system and reduce incidents of violence and alcohol abuse.
Orleck said she’d like to see Dartmouth do what Williams College did, “which is to buy up Greek houses from their national chapters and turn them into coed housing.”
Hazing is prohibited by both Dartmouth policy and New Hampshire state law, Anderson said. Colleges across the country have tried to crack down on the practice, which can include excessive drinking, degrading behavior and physical violence, often as part of an initiation rite. In November, a marching band member at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee was beaten to death in a hazing, while another member’s leg was broken.
“Dartmouth is not unique in terms of having segments of its population who at times drink to excess and who at times haze,” he said. “We want to be leaders in addressing this particular issue.”
Under President Jim Kim, Dartmouth has revised campus drinking policies to create student monitors at fraternity parties. In May, Kim announced the creation of a college collaborative to devise methods for reducing binge drinking. The group now has 32 members.
Dartmouth, founded in 1769, has about 5,800 students and is the smallest institution in the Ivy League, a group of eight private northeastern universities. Graduates include U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his immediate predecessor, Henry Paulson, as well as Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive officer of General Electric Co., based in Fairfield, Connecticut.
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