Dartmouth College on Friday said it has dropped charges against 27 students it recently accused of hazing, though allegations against the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity still stand.
Through its judicial affairs office, the Ivy League school had charged more than a quarter of the fraternity's members of violating school policy by threatening physical harm to new fraternity members, putting other students in fear for their safety and/or engaging in hazing during the fall 2011 term. The students also were accused of providing alcohol to underage students, providing drugs and/or providing alcohol to obviously intoxicated individuals during the same time period.
The charges were based largely on allegations made by former fraternity member Andrew Lohse, who went public in January with allegations of "dehumanizing" experiences he said he witnessed at the fraternity. In a column for the school newspaper, Lohse said the fraternity pressured pledges to swim in a kiddie pool of rotten food, vomit and other bodily fluids; eat omelets made of vomit; and chug cups of vinegar. He called those activities the norm rather than the exception on Hanover campus, and he criticized the administration for not doing enough when he made anonymous complaints last year.
On Friday, college spokesman Justin Anderson said initial information presented to the college supported the hazing charges, but it didn't hold up under further scrutiny.
"Accordingly, all those charges against individuals have been rescinded," he told The Associated Press. "Organizational charges against SAE remain pending."
Lohse, who is on leave from Dartmouth, said Friday he was glad the individual charges had been dropped.
"Just because the charges are dropped against the individuals, it doesn't mean these things didn't happen," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "Throwing 27 guys under the bus would be a travesty of justice, when hundreds of people do this and will continue to do this with impunity."
Lohse said he recently wrote to investigators saying he would not cooperate further in the investigation because he did not agree with charging individuals, and did not want his words to be used against him. A few days later, the charges were dropped.
"I think that probably had something to do with it," he said.
The fraternity's former president, Brendan Mahoney, declined to comment Friday. He has said that nothing Lohse described, and nothing remotely close to hazing, occurred at the fraternity in the fall 2011 pledge term. By then, the fraternity had gotten rid of any traditions that would be "deemed problematic" by the administration, Mahoney said, and no current members of SAE were members in 2009 when Lohse was a pledge.
He did agree with Lohse on one point: both characterized the charges as a knee-jerk reaction to bad press. College administrators have strongly denied that claim, as well as Lohse's claim that the college failed to act on his initial complaints.
A week after Lohse's column was published, more than 100 faculty members wrote to the administration, describing hazing as an "open secret" and calling on the administration to set up an independent commission to address it. The college has since formed a task, and administrators say they see hazing as part of a larger problem, tied together with binge drinking and sexual assault. They point to the National College Health Improvement Project the college launched last year as one of the steps they've taken to address all three.
Apart from the college, Hanover police also have been investigating Lohse's claims, but Police Chief Nick Giaccone has said criminal charges are unlikely, in large part because Lohse is not cooperating with police. He also cited "credibility issues," including Lohse's arrest and conviction for cocaine possession in 2010.
That incident has raised questions about whether Lohse's allegations were motivated by a desire to get back at the fraternity after he was suspended. Lohse said that is not true.
"People have tried to peg me as vindictive and trying to get revenge on the frat or these guys, and that couldn't be farther from the truth," he said. "I was, from the beginning saying that these individuals shouldn't be charged. I was never after revenge, and I'm really pleased that the college seems to be handling it the right way now."
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