Following two high-profile hazing incidents this academic year and two similar cases last year, the deans have begun to review and revise the College's current hazing rules, due to student disagreement with the enforcement of the policies.
In the fall, the men’s rugby team was forced to forfeit two games after four students were transported due to overconsumption of alcohol on the night of the team’s annual Epicuria party. The team was effectively disqualified from postseason play as a result of the forfeitures. This spring, the men’s tennis team, ranked No. 5 nationally in D-III at the time, forefeited four matches and postseason play after the deans determined that a team event involved hazing.
Many students said that the punishments were disproportionate to the teams’ transgressions.
"Some of the teams that have gotten in trouble for hazing have said that they took a lot of precautions to not haze," said a female junior athlete who asked to remain anonymous.
"It paints a picture of the whole 50-person team,” said Robbie Deveny ’13, a member of both the rugby team and the Meddiebempsters, an a cappella group that was punished for hazing in 2011. “When you say you play rugby, people say ‘Oh, you must be one of those hazers.’”
“These are groups that I'm proud to be a part of,” Deveny added. “I'm proud of the community and environment that they create. Our players got calls from their parents asking 'What are you doing with this team? That's not how I want you spending your time at school.' It kind of invalidates the way you choose to present yourself if that label is thrown on your team."
Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster has the final say when it comes to punishments for hazing. He said that he understands that such sanctions are of great consequence.
"As a result of missing those two games, the rugby team couldn't play in the postseason," Foster said. “That's a significant consequence. But then we had another incident, after everyone on the men's tennis team knew what happened with the rugby team."
The Bowdoin administration is looking to further the student body’s understanding of hazing. Foster is heading a team tasked with developing hazing education initiatives to be implemented in the 2013-2014 academic year. The team includes Director of Student Life Allen Delong, Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan, Associate Director of Student Affairs Meadow Davis, Coordinator of Health Education Whitney Hogan, and select students.
Foster provided the Orient with a list of potential initiatives, among them a plan to “develop case studies for use by teams and organizations and possibly link these to our hazing policy. Include examples that constitute hazing and examples that don’t.”
"We're interested in developing some case studies that may be eerily similar to things that have taken place," said Foster. "There are tons of events and parties any given weekend where people are making poor choices and poor decisions, but they don’t constitute hazing."
The list of initiatives proposes comprehensive, interactive information sessions conducted by coaches and leaders of sports teams and other student groups. According to the list, Portland lawyer Janet Judge will train coaches and leaders on how to facilitate these conversations. Judge previously worked with Bowdoin in the aftermath of a 2007 hazing incident involving the women’s squash team.
Also on the list are plans to have group members sign no-hazing pledges and to adjust the College’s hazing policy to include “zero-tolerance” language and “address…the belief that creating an opportunity for people to ‘opt out’ makes hazing-related activities okay.”
"Every [hazing] incident I've been involved in in eight years, the students said ‘but they didn't have to participate,’” said Delong. “And that's been the fatal flaw in the judgment and the outcome."
Other potential actions include conducting a hazing forum for students in September, distributing the hazing policy to all students, and possibly even forming a Safe Space or BMASV-type advocacy group that “focuses on hazing and meets regularly.”
These efforts by the administration to educate students about hazing are a continuation of educational plans that deans have implemented over the past few years. During this time, these attempts to prevent hazing have led to an increase in the frequency of reported hazing cases.
Other punishments from hazing incidents in recent years include the men’s hockey team being stripped of its NESCAC title in 2011 and the temporary revocation of the Meddiebempsters’ charter later in the same year.
In light of all the recent incidents, Bowdoin’s administration hired the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention to design a hazing survey for Bowdoin students. The survey was distributed just days before the incident with the tennis team was publicized.
"We work with each college or university to review the survey and see how it may need to be adapted,” said Dr. Elizabeth Allan, who co-founded the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention along with fellow University of Maine-Orono professor Dr. Mary Madden. “We look to see if there are traditions or cultural differences that might affect the types of hazing that are most prevalent."
In 2008, Allan and Madden released a study entitled Hazing in View: College Students at Risk that surveyed over 11,000 students at over 50 colleges and universities nationwide. According to the study, “nine out of ten students who have experienced hazing behavior in college do not consider themselves to have been hazed.” This figure may resonate with Bowdoin students who have been confused by the administration’s broad definition of hazing.
According to Will Tucker ’14, a member of the Meddiebempsters, the group took maximum precautions in 2011 to ensure that first-year members would be at ease during the group activities that administrators deemed hazing.
"I don't think there was any sense that we messed something up,” said Tucker. “We were all pretty comfortable that we had conducted ourselves in a way that wasn't hazing and wasn't pressuring people."
"It's hard to get a touchstone of understanding,” said Tucker. “Where is the line drawn?"
"The definition [of hazing] includes any activity expected of someone joining a group that could cause physical or psychological harm, regardless of the person's willingness to participate,” said Allan. “When we ask students how they understand hazing, they most often describe activities that could cause physical harm and clearly involve physical force. They think of someone being tied up and having alcohol forced down their throat. But there's a broad spectrum. What many people often miss is the coercion factor that can be in hazing."
"It's very nuanced and often very contextual,” Allan added. “What may seem funny to one person may not to another, depending on their history of potential psychological or physical abuse. You don't know if the person next to you on a team has experienced that."
Foster sent out school-wide emails notifying students of both the tennis and rugby hazing incidents. While these emails included information about the teams’ respective punishments and reiterations of the College’s stance on hazing, neither specified what team members had done that actually constituted hazing. According to Foster, this was for the sake of confidentiality.
"It's easy to envision a quick roster check to determine exactly who the victims were and who did the hazing,” said Foster. “That, then, becomes something that can follow people for the rest of their lives."
With a working definition of hazing that even administrators characterize as broad, some students say that they have trouble knowing what exactly constitutes hazing. They say that the administration’s decision to withhold details only furthers the confusion.
"Maybe I'm being a little too ‘Klingenstein’ in picking on certain aspects of Bowdoin that are actually problems with higher education as a whole,” said Tucker. “But it's a general communication problem with the way an institution like this is run. It's not transparent. You see some of what the administration is doing and you don't see other parts. They have a right to keep certain things confidential. But when it is an inherently student-related issue, I think there is a responsibility of the administration to be more open to dialogue."
"If all you know about hazing is a policy, that's not enough,” said Allan. “There needs to be dialogue and conversations where people can ask questions.”
She added that the administration’s emphasis on hazing is an important step towards a campus-wide understanding of the issue.
"What [the Bowdoin] administration is doing is encouraging in that it's a lot more transparency than I've seen on other campuses," she said. "Students [elsewhere] sometimes report something and never hear back in terms of consequences or accountability."
Bowdoin administrators say they keenly await the results of the hazing survey that students filled out in March.
"I don't know the extent of our problem, which is why we contracted the survey,” said Delong. “It was almost hearsay. If a student organization was being accused of hazing, someone in that group would say, ‘You think we're bad? You should talk to this other student organization.' I hope we'll get a sense from the survey what the problem is, if we have a problem."
Delong is confident that students, like administrators, are ready to work towards a better understanding of the hazing issue.
"Students aren't saying, 'We're never going to understand this policy, so we're not going to try,'” he said. "They're saying, ‘We don't get it, so create it so that we understand it.’”