Bowdoin became the first institution in NESCAC history to voluntarily vacate a NESCAC Championship following the discovery that hazing occurred at a men's ice hockey initiation event on May 11. The revelation was a dramatic turn of fortune for a team that only three months prior had been riding high after defeating Williams to capture the program's first-ever conference title.
What exactly happened at the initiation, however, remains unclear.
The Dean's Office learned of the initiation on the morning of May 12 and alerted the Department of Safety and Security, which promptly launched an investigation. According to a former member of the team who agreed to speak to the Orient on the condition of anonymity, the players were notified of the investigation that evening. Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster declined to elaborate on the exact details of the event.
Foster did report that the investigation quickly revealed that the incident "was an unambiguous case of hazing."
College policy defines hazing as "any activity that is part of an initiation, participation, or affiliation in a group" that includes coercive, illegal, or academically compromising behavior. The Student Handbook additionally stipulates that hazing includes "encouraging or requiring a person to consume alcohol, drugs, or foreign or unusual substances."
Former captain Kyle Shearer-Hardy '11 wrote in an email to the Orient that "there certainly was drinking involved, but no hard alcohol. Just kegs and wine coolers...it was more of an end of year party that happens annually."
The former player who requested anonymity corroborated that no hard alcohol was present.
In the weeks and months following the party, rumors began circulating that laxatives or other drugs were consumed, though Director of Athletics Jeff Ward said that to his knowledge, neither were involved. Shearer-Hardy also wrote that he was not aware of any laxatives at the initiation, but added that "after all the information arose, it seems as if someone may have tried to add them to the mix."
"I'm not sure if it was meant to be a joke, or if they were accidentally put in someone's drink," he wrote. "To my knowledge, as someone who was relatively sober at the event, I had no idea they were being used."
The initiation event itself was a "toned-down" version of the annual tradition, according to Shearer-Hardy. "But it was an initiation nonetheless," he wrote.
"They never endangered people, there were no hurtful intents in anything they were doing," said Ward. "Many of their actions, in different settings, would have been quite common on campus...it was more the setting—and the whole power dynamic—that was the problem."
President Barry Mills announced the decision to vacate the championship in a May 21 post on the Bowdoin Daily Sun. Mills wrote that the team had "willfully disregarded" the College's policy prohibiting hazing. No team members were expelled as a result of the investigation, though some players faced individual sanctions, the nature of which Foster declined to disclose.
"With their recent actions, the team has lost the right to be recognized as champions," wrote Mills. "Compounding the problem was the fact that team members were not forthcoming when confronted about the incident."
According to Foster, team members "were dishonest in their characterization of the events" when initially questioned about the details of the initiation.
Foster said the "collusion on the part of the team to cover up what had happened" was "one of the most disappointing facts" in the investigation, and that had there not been dishonesty, the outcome of the disciplinary action might have been different.
"Originally when confronted about the event, we did give a blurred version of the truth [and] left out a lot of details," wrote Shearer-Hardy. "At that time, partly due to the fact that the party was off-campus and that it had taken place weeks prior...we did not feel the need to disclose every detail. But looking back on it, we definitely made a big mistake."
Foster said that "every member of the team, with one exception," was dishonest in their characterization of the events. "A member of the team who was unsettled by what had happened came forward, and that's how we were made aware of the situation," he said.
Mills then worked with Foster, Ward, and Head Coach Terry Meagher before deciding to vacate the championship. The College then communicated their decision to the NESCAC executive committee.
"We had a conversation, and most of us were pretty like-minded," said Ward of the deliberations that went into the decision.
NESCAC Associate Director Dan Fisher said that in the 20-year history of the NESCAC, which began holding championship games in the 2000-2001 academic year, "this has never happened before."
According to Ward, had the College not decided to vacate the championship, the NESCAC would most likely still consider the team league champions.
"It's really up to the institution to self-police," said Ward.
The decision to vacate the title is a clear move on the part of the administration to communicate the gravity of hazing practices to both athletic and non-athletic student organizations.
The College's hazing policy underwent a major revision in 2008 following an investigation into allegations of hazing on the sailing and women's squash teams. The administration found the women's squash team had engaged in "mild hazing" in 2006, but did not find that the sailing team was involved in hazing.
Because the investigation occurred years after the alleged incidents, disciplinary action could not be directly taken against the perpetrators, and the teams were ordered to participate in educational programs about hazing on campus.
"Our punishment was so severe less because of their actions and more because the issue is so important," said Ward, who added that the senior members of the team had played a large part in the event. Retroactively vacating the championship ensured that the graduating team members were made to face the consequences of their decisions, he said. Ward added that multiple NESCAC schools had encountered similar, though perhaps less public, incidents of hazing.
"There is never a perfect solution and there are ranges of responsibility," said Ward. "There were people on the team who weren't even there."
Current team captains Tim McGarry '13 and Graham Sisson '12 declined to comment.
However McGarry, in an email to the Orient, wrote, "We are working on moving past the issues of last spring to the best of our ability and while keeping in mind what we learned from the experience, we hope to put the past behind us."
Said Ward, "At this point, they've paid their price and they deserve to be allowed to move on."
Nevertheless, the decision to vacate the title has not been altogether well-received by team members past and present.
"I don't understand the punishment," said former team captain Jim Cavanaugh '98. "It doesn't make sense considering the season was over and the school infraction had no relation to their achievement."
"I do think it was wrong to take away something that we had achieved together after countless hours of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears," wrote Shearer-Hardy.
Cavanaugh said he didn't think the decision would affect the program's recruitment efforts going forward.
"The kids that are going to Bowdoin know that the program is going to be strong regardless of whether there's a banner up," he said. "Regardless of whether there's a trophy...they're still the best team of last year."
"I think Bowdoin officials handled the situation very well," wrote former captain Sebastian Belanger '08 in an email to the Orient. "I am glad to see that nobody's career was ruined over this incident and that every returning player will get a chance to compete at the NCAA level this season."
Meagher said that former team members and alumni had expressed that they understood the College's course of action with regard to the disciplinary action.
"I feel that those who have been in touch with me trust us to do the right thing going forward," said Meagher.
"The program did take a hit, and yes, it was embarrassing," he said. "It was confusing, below the standards of the program. On the other hand, you may say the program is not just about winning and losing, so the [hard stance] could enhance the reputation of the program."
Championship title or not, last season was a landmark year for the men's ice hockey team.
"It was a season that started out with much promise: first there was success, then in the middle third adversity...losing some close games," said Meagher. "What made this team really exciting is how the leadership stepped forward...Last season's stretch run was special. So many big plays at key moments."
"In my eyes, we are and will always be the 2011 NESCAC champions," wrote Shearer-Hardy.
This year's team, meanwhile, is looking forward to what promises to be a successful season. "We can't wait to start," said Meagher. "We all will be disappointed if we are not a player in our league and hopefully beyond."