The Meddiebempsters hazed their first year members at a September 16 initiation event, according to the Student Organizations Oversight Committee (SOOC), which reviewed the matter. As a result, the Meddies face a number of disciplinary measures, including a restriction on their ability to perform. As the College's oldest a cappella group, the Meddies have traditionally had the privilege of singing at select athletic and departmental events. The group has been banned from doing so until March 10.
The October 26 ruling concludes that the a cappella group's initiation activities involving three first years violated both the student government's club policy and the College's hazing policy.
The Orient's interviews with members of the SOOC (the arm of Bowdoin Student Government tasked with managing clubs), the Meddies, and senior administrators of the College left no doubt that the initiation event constituted hazing as defined by College policy; everyone interviewed agreed that this was the case.
The initiation was first brought to light when a first year Meddie was fired from his job at Jack Magee's Pub and Grill for arriving at work intoxicated on the evening of September 16. While investigating the incident, Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols discovered that the first year had consumed alcohol at the Meddies initiation for its three new members.
According to a first year Meddie who participated in the initiation, the first years were asked to complete a scavenger hunt leading them to historic College landmarks, after which they were driven to a senior's off-campus apartment where the other Meddies were waiting to congratulate them. The first year said that the two other initiates chose to drink beer, while he abstained beyond having "a few sips."
The SOOC report states that there was a "perception by the first years that the initiation events were compulsory" for entrance into the a cappella group.
However, the first year Meddie said that he never felt pressured to drink or engage in other activities: "There were several times when I was asked if I wanted to drink, and I said no."
"The upperclass Meddies were really nice about it, and more than once pulled me aside and said, 'If there's anything you're uncomfortable with, you shouldn't do it,'" he added.
A senior Meddie described the group's efforts to create a non-coercive atmposphere.
"There has always been an understanding that everyone in the group is looking out for you, and that you are never going to be put in a place of physical or emotional danger," he said.
Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster emphasized that under the College's hazing policy, initiation events may constitute hazing, regardless of whether group members willingly participate in initiation activities.
"I think that a definition of hazing includes a power differential," said Director of Student Life Allen Delong, explaining that first year initiates can be intimidated by older members of a group. "So often victims will say, 'I'm fine with this.'"
As a result, "we have chosen, as have many institutions, to say we're not going to look at consent," Delong added. "We're going to look at the actions and the intent as more important than the reactions of the people involved."
The College's policy on hazing states that because, "Hazing has dangerous potential to harm individuals, to damage organizations and teams, and to undermine the educational mission of the College and the fundamental values of our learning community...no student organization...shall conduct or condone hazing activities, consensual or not."
The policy recommends that members of groups considering whether or not their initiation rites are in violation of it, should ask themselves if they "would have any reservations describing the activity to parents, grandparents, a professor, dean, police officer or judge; or ask how you would feel if the activity was photographed and appeared in the Orient or on Facebook, YouTube, or local TV. If either or both would unsettle you, then the activity probably constitutes hazing."
Reflecting on the initiation events he experienced as a first year Meddie, a senior member recalled: "I remember at the beginning of my Bowdoin career calling home a lot and letting my parents know what I was doing... I was like, 'I went to this great Meddie event' and it did not, in the language I used...ever come across, I think, as something that was coercive. It was something that literally I wanted to call my mom about."
"I'm sure that can't be said of the hockey team," he added, referring to the men's ice hockey initiation last spring, which resulted in the College vacating the 2011 NESCAC championship.
Another senior said that after the Meddies were involved in a hazing controversy two years ago, the group's leadership consciously changed the initiation rites to comply with College policy.
"I think that we're probably the only group on campus...that actively tried to do an administration-friendly initiation," said the Meddie. However, Delong told the Orient that this semester he met with multiple club leaders to work on changing their organizations' initiation rites.
Nonetheless, the Meddie said that he and the other seniors intended to design the event so that "the administration would understand if it were brought to light."
According to Foster, the hearing was handled by the SOOC because the Meddies are a chartered student organization; as a point of comparison, hazing allegations involving varsity athletic teams would not be handled by the SOOC because sports teams do not submit charters to the SOOC for review. It is important to note, however, that this marks the first time that this avenue has been used to address hazing allegations on campus.
"I can confirm that this is the first time we're using this process," said Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) President Derek Brooks '12, who spearheaded the committee along with Chediak.
Foster noted that the SOOC's involvement does not preclude his office from taking future disciplinary action. But he added that the incident constituted a minor instance of hazing, and will not likely require the scrutiny of the Judicial Board.
Delong said that the administration could have exercised broad control over the proceedings, but chose to channel the hearing through the student-led SOOC to allow for a wider range of potential outcomes.
"There is an administrative process that we could have utilized, and been really certain of the outcome—we didn't take that," Delong said. "Instead we took the least predictable way, and put our trust and faith in the students, that meaning the SOOC, that they would take this really seriously and that they would vet it thoroughly."
The senior Meddies told the Orient that they felt that facing the SOOC as an organization was preferable to being tried individually by the J-Board.
The hearing was held over a month after the incident. According to Dani Chediak '13, chair of the SOOC, the delay was caused by two members of the committee, a senior and a sophomore, recusing themselves due to conflicts of interest with the party under investigation. The hearing process was postponed to allow BSG to temporarily appoint other student representatives to the group of SOOC members managing the hearing.
Those present at the hearing included seven members of the SOOC, two senior representatives from the Meddies, and Delong.
It appears that there was a disconnect between how the SOOC and the Meddies viewed the severity of the events as well as how the investigative and hearing were approached.
The senior Meddies expressed confusion, largely due to the long process leading up to the final verdict, regarding the investigative process after they were notified of the BSG Executive Committee's decision last Friday.
Brooks, the BSG president, said of the process, it took "longer than we would like in the future...if this ever happens again we'll have a more clear direction."
"What [has] been frustrating is to have the feeling that we weren't really in the loop about what was happening or about how serious some of the options on the table may have been," one senior Meddie said.
Senior members of the Meddies said that they were under the impression that the first years involved had been interviewed during the investigation.
"I'm frustrated that [the first years'] point of view is not taken into account," said one senior.
Nonetheless, an October 13 email from Chediak to the senior Meddies on behalf of the SOOC stated that any members of the a cappella group could attend the hearing and that she was willing to council the Meddies through on their representation and approach to the hearing.
She told the Meddies in this email that she was abstaining from voting at the hearing "specifically to preserve my ability to help you throughout the process."
"We had assumed that the investigation would have contacted the freshman...and we were surprised to hear they had never been contacted," said a senior Meddie, addressing one of the reasons why the group did not bring its first years to the hearing.
The Meddies declined to comment on the record regarding their efforts to communicate with Chediak prior to the hearing.
According to the SOOC's report, the initiation event involved a "deliberation of fear" and "a distinction of members by class year," both of which violated the hazing policy. The report mentions other violations as well, including "a product sexual in nature"—though it states that this product was not in fact used—at the event and the "structured consumption of alcohol."
"There is no question that what happened constitutes hazing," Foster wrote in an email to the Orient.
And a senior member of the Meddies acknowledged that the group's initiation rites constituted hazing according to the policy, despite their intentions. He questioned, however, whether their activities were comparable to more severe instances of hazing that occur, but go unpunished.
"In light of the other hazing practices that go on at this campus, this is minuscule in comparison," he said.
When asked if he was aware of the widespread instances of what could called hazing, Delong said he was not, but that his office attempts to find them nonetheless. "We absolutely look for examples of hazing. What we know about hazing is that it often doesn't happen in the Smith Union...if I see it, I will confront it."
Both Foster and Delong stated that they investigate all incidents of hazing that are brought to their attention, though it is often difficult to discover hazing without these tips as it almost always occurs off campus.
In addition to being prohibited from performing in those select events until mid-March, the a cappella group must comply with a variety of stipulations in order to have its club charter renewed by the SOOC.
These stipulations include, but are not limited to the following: a written letter of apology to be submitted to The Bowdoin Orient for publication; a written revision of the initiation event that complies with BSG's Club Membership Activity Policy; a meeting with the SOOC leadership to review the proposed revisions; the oversight of subsequent initiation events and auditions that are held by the Meddies; and finally, a written statement from the group ensuring that it has complied with its proposed revisions once auditions are held in the fall of 2012. The Meddies do not plan to appeal the decision.
Editors' Note: Members of the Meddies agreed to speak with the Orient only on the condition of anonymity. Additionally, Luke Drabyn, Sam Frizell, Linda Kinstler, and Elizabeth Maybank contributed to this report.