Wheeler: Dangerous Delusions
One night last term I was hanging out with some friends, all of whom are members of the same fraternity. Somehow their pledge term came up — a tired topic, I know, but one that in this instance merits revisiting. I laughed it off as a bizarre regimen they force upon themselves to become hardened frat bros. They protested, of course, and said that it was much more than that. These activities were important and good for the brotherhood. Skeptical, I asked them, point blank, how many times they threw up during pledge term. They looked at each other and decided twice a week.

I know fraternity members are not the only students on this campus who participate in binge drinking, which certainly is not a problem confined to Dartmouth. But what was so weird about this conversation was how unabashed my friends were in discussing their pledge term’s more grotesque activities. I asked if they considered their habits alcoholic behavior. No, they said. Why? They defined alcoholics as those who drink every day. But medical professionals define alcoholics as people who cannot control how much they drink once they start, who need to drink more to get the same effect and who give up other activities to drink, regardless of whether they drink daily. I know many students, my friends included, who exhibit these symptoms. That hazing essentially requires alcoholic behavior from new fraternity members is troubling. And just as disturbing is how my friends felt compelled to defend how often they threw up during pledge term. They explained that it is important to know how to “pull your trigger” — that is, make yourself vomit. I was in disbelief that one could consider bending over a toilet after binge drinking beneficial. I find this kind of logic to be totally bizarre. Yet it’s incredibly difficult to convince members of the Greek system that such hazing is extreme, dangerous and intolerable. When I asked if they could see how warped their logic was, they maintained their stance: hazing was good for them. Students need to recognize how weird — and yes, I think weird is the correct word for  imposing blatant bodily harm upon yourself and others for fun — some of the norms surrounding pledge term are. If making men throw up — sometimes on each other, which does happen — is considered fun and even crucial to their college experience, I have to ask what the hell we are doing with our time and our minds here at Dartmouth. Why do otherwise intelligent men and women succumb to a groupthink that justifies harm to their bodies in the name of building friendship? Drinking and having a good time is one thing, but pledge term and the dangerous behavior it imbues in students are totally unnecessary. Students justify and even come to enjoy clearly destructive behavior until they refuse to see things any other way. To do so would go against the pledge term mantra and mainstream Dartmouth ideology. Another friend of mine often complained to me about how hard his pledge term was. Most mornings he had dark circles under his eyes as he hurried to the library to finish his neglected work from the night before. It was sad. I asked him why he didn’t simply say no to the pledge activities that were clearly taking a toll on him. He informed me that it wasn’t that easy. Another friend of mine participated in optional pledge activities the night before a test, even though the activities included heavy drinking. At Dartmouth, decisions like his feel all too common. I do not question the desire to join a fraternity or sorority, but I do question the idea that being affiliated is worth the destructive behavior that it may require. I also dispute the notion that suffering is imperative to bonding. With winter rush approaching, students need to step back and look critically at the activities they participate in and the logic they abide by here at Dartmouth, and they must stand up if they are dissatisfied with what they see. Only then will we begin to remove the truly harmful and absolutely unproductive components of Dartmouth culture.
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