By Cassie Murdoch
After Andrew Lohse, the former Dartmouth frat boy who revealed some dark secrets about the hazing rituals that are apparently commonplace on campus, there’s been a lot of discussion about what exactly goes on in the bowels of fraternity houses. (Kiddie pools full of bodily fluids and eating something called a vomlet, for starters.) But now a female Dartmouth alum has come forward to reveal that the hazing that goes on at sororities there is just as horrible—and she should know, because it almost killed her.
While the Rolling Stone article on Lohse covers the abuses of the Greek system as a whole—and it discusses that girls are often sexually assaulted as a result—little mention is made of hazing that goes on in sororities. That’s mostly because the article centers on Lohse’s claims and their veracity. While a lot of what he says seems to be accurate, he not a particularly reliable or even likeable narrator, and there’s been an insane amount of pushback from the schools alumni who refuse to admit that there’s a problem while simultaneously suggesting that these practices are a tradition and therefore are sacred.
Now Ravital Segal, who graduated from Dartmouth in 2009, has added her voice to the mix, writing in the Huffington Post about her horrifying hazing experience as a sophomore rushing Kappa Kappa Gamma. Surprisingly, Segal still has a lot of good things to say about Dartmouth—even calling it “my beloved Alma Mater”—despite the fact that she very nearly died thanks to the reckless behavior that the Greek system fosters. Here’s how she describes what happened to her one night during rush:
I was blindfolded with two of my fellow pledges. We were guided into the back seat of a car and one of our future sisters commanded us to chug the alcoholic punch that had been pre-prepared for each of us in individual 64-ounce water bottles. Simultaneously, I was handed numerous vodka shots from the older sister sitting in the front seat. Things happened quickly. After what couldn’t have been more than a fifteen-minute drive, I was told to get out of the car. I did — but then I lost all consciousness. To this day, I have no idea what happened that night.
As frightening as that prospect sounds, it gets worse once you know the end result:
I woke up the following morning in the Intensive Care Unit at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. I wasn’t alone. I later learned that three other girls had also been admitted, each having overdosed on alcohol due to hazing rituals. Two were fellow pledges, and one was pledging another sorority, Sigma Delta.
That right there signals a major problem for the sororities and the school—that they’ve got multiple kids ending up in the hospital from overdosing on alcohol in a single night—but, according to Segal, for her the drinking wasn’t the only problem:
I had bruises and cuts all over my body, two of my teeth were broken and I was intubated and restrained. The doctor informed me that I had entered the hospital with a .399 blood alcohol content. I soon learned that a .4 BAC is coma and death. I was literally one sip of alcohol away from dying.
Jesus Christ. That’s a far more grave tale than anything Andrew Lohse recounted experiencing at his frat. You won’t be surprised to hear that this experience caused Segal to re-evaluate what she was doing. As she says, “I fell into an emotional tailspin.” But for her it wasn’t a clear-cut case of wrongdoing on the part of her sorority sisters. She describes a conversation she had with one of the other pledges from Kappa Kappa Gamma who’d overdosed:
We sat on my bed, both still in shock. She appealed to me, “You’re not going to call this ‘hazing’ are you?” “Of course not.” I reassured her. I took full responsibility. Nobody had forced me to drink. I quickly listed all of the reasons why this was the farthest thing from hazing. In truth, our real fear went unstated: neither of us wanted to point fingers at our sorority and incur the social ostracism that would surely follow.
However the girls chose to rationalize what had happened, you’d think the real responsibility for handling the matter would lie with the school and the sorority. And, indeed, Dartmouth held a hearing about the incident, where Segal says,
I assured the administration that I had not been hazed. I could almost hear a collective sigh of relief. This was just the bad judgment of one sophomore. There would be no bad PR. My sorority went unpunished.
Well, that’s maddening—and it’s the kind of thing that’s bound to give every parent of a Dartmouth sorority girl serious pause when writing that next tuition check. What’s interesting is that despite the fact that Segal had what sounds like a tremendously traumatizing experience, she still goes to great lengths to defend the acts of her senior sorority sisters that landed her in the hospital that night.
She now fully recognizes that she was hazed, and she later depledged the sorority. But she says, “those girls sitting in the front of the car who were hazing me into near death, they were victims too.” She cites Milgram’s classic 1963 study in which he had people “shock” other study participants and Philip Zimbardo’s 1973 Stanford Prison Experiment, and she concludes that “otherwise thoughtful people can act in atrocious ways.” That may be true, but it doesn’t absolve them of any wrongdoing. And then she makes this statement:
Within the context of Dartmouth’s social environment, two intelligent and compassionate women commanded me to drink a lethal amount of alcohol. And within that same environment, I listened. I almost lost my life that day and, infuriatingly, nobody — and everybody — was to blame.
Therein lies the problem: there are so many people to blame that it’s easier to never even try to punish anyone. Add to that the fact that there are a number of entrenched interests that want to do everything they can to keep the Greek traditions from being destroyed. And that is almost inevitable if the school really wants to address this problem in any meaningful way. It’s also true that individual students have reasons for sticking with the system even when they find it troubling. In the case of the other girl whom Segal overdosed with, she says the practice of Dartmouth alums helping future generations of graduates get jobs had a big impact:
The same girl who overdosed with me, also confided to me months after the hazing event that she was unhappy in the sorority but didn’t want to burn any bridges. She said having her sorority on her resume would help her land a high-profile finance job. (It worked.)
The Rolling Stone piece says much the same thing of Lohse’s experience. It’s disgusting, but it’s also easy to see how things ended up this way. Of course, now that they’re facing the glare of the national spotlight, it continuing to sweep this under the rug isn’t really an option for the school or the fraternities and sororities any more. Segal sees this as an opportunity to start a conversation about changing things for the better. Ideally, this conversation would be led by Dartmouth’s president, Jim Yong Kim, whose handling of this situation so far has been mixed at best. But Kim was recently nominated by President Obama to take over the presidency of the World Bank; so he may end up passing the buck onto someone else. Segal, however, makes the valid point that it’s also up to the alumni to start being honest about their own hazing experiences, and also to encourage reform for the benefit of current students. After all, just because they didn’t die during rush doesn’t mean the students of today should have to.