CC addresses hazing issues

After tabling the funding for the Athletics Tournament I subgroup for a week in order to explore the issue of hazing, College Council voted 24-1-0 to fund the subgroup. The vote took place after a discussion on unsafe drinking between the council and various members of club sports.

CC Treasurer Nelson Hioe ’00 introduced the issue of hazing when he presented the subgroup allocation to CC for approval. According to Hioe, after a discussion with Dean of the College Peter Murphy, the officers of CC decided hazing was an important issue to look into. At that meeting CC voted to table the funding for one week so it could clarify the issue with the captains of the club teams themselves.

When asked why hazing is an issue worth debating, Murphy explained that hazing, as defined by the state, is a violation of Massachusetts law and therefore something the College must take seriously.

Murphy also stated a larger reason, “I generally am not very happy about practices that either insist or help people think that the identity of a team or a group is more important then their identity as a Williams student. I think that those are generally destructive things for our community.”

“Obviously those groups are going to exist,” Murphy continued. “Any of them, whether it’s an actual sports team or some other group can be really positive, but when you begin to develop a culture that closes in on itself and thinks of itself in some ways as the founding identity of the person in their career, those have become destructive practices.”

At CC’s invitation, captains from the men’s and women’s rugby, Ultimate Frisbee and water polo teams came to the meeting, along with about 50 other members of the various teams to discuss their view of hazing practices.

CC Co-president Bert Leatherman ’00 opened the discussion with the team members by saying that CC “invited you here to clear things up.”

Todd Steifler ’01of the men’s rugby team spoke first, explaining that a member of the men’s rugby team does not have to drink if he doesn’t want to. Beth Friedman ’01 of the women’s rugby team echoed the sentiment, saying that on the women’s rugby team there is “absolutely no pressure to drink.”

On behalf of the women’s Ultimate Frisbee team, Leah Rabin ’00 said, “we made it very clear that you do not have to drink.” Peter Jones ’01 of the men’s Ultimate Frisbee team said, “I’ve played Frisbee for three years and have seen no hazing rituals or anything like that.”

From the water polo team, Dave Walfish ’01 said, “I consider myself a pretty reasonable guy. I have not seen anything that I would even remotely consider hazing.”

During the course of the meeting, CC member Nancy Walworth ’00 questioned the extent to which the Council’s position was being controlled by the administration. “I am concerned with how much the administration is influencing us,” she said.

In the interview Murphy explained the reason he went to CC with this issue was because “they give money to these groups. You have to think carefully about the practices of the groups that you give money to.”

Several club sports members at the meeting expressed displeasure that they were being singled out on this issue while the athletic department teams were not being examined.

To this Murphy said, “We’ve been talking to coaches and Charles Toomajian [the associate dean for student services] has been meeting with all of the captains of all of the sports teams.”

Murphy also said what he always tells students is, “If it is unfair to concentrate on one team rather than any other team come tell me why.”

After the CC meeting, Leatherman, CC Co-president Medha Kirtane ’00, Jones, Rabin, Alice Stout ’01 and Leigh Greenwood ’00 stayed and brainstormed on effective ways of continuing to deal with any drinking issues with sports teams on campus.

Greenwood, a member of the women’s WUFO team, expressed her thoughts by saying, “I don’t believe unsafe drinking is caused by entire teams, whether club or varsity. I believe that unsafe drinking is caused by unsafe and uncaring members of teams, who left unchecked can have great influence on new members. This power comes from a willingness on the part of a new member to put themselves at risk because they desire so strongly to be part of tight-knit group.”

“In ‘Ultimate,’ we try to always have an atmosphere where players who don’t drink are comfortable,” Greenwood continued. “Under no circumstance do we ever want people to think they have to drink to impress or to be accepted.”

Murphy agreed with Greenwood and commented that “the crucial point about such practices is that the word voluntary becomes very hard to understand. If you have seniors on a team asking first-year potential members of a team to do something then voluntary is a very difficult word to figure out.”

According to Massachusetts state law, “Whoever is a principal organizer or participant in the crime of hazing as defined herein shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars or by imprisonment in a house of corrections for not more than one hundred days, or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

The law defines hazing as “any conduct or method of initiation into any student organization, whether on public or private property, which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or person.”

The law also applies to team members not directly involved in hazing rituals themselves. It also says, “Whoever knows that another person is the victim of hazing as defined in section seventeen and is at the scene of such crime shall, to the extent that such person can do so without danger or peril to himself or others, report such crime to an appropriate law enforcement official as soon as reasonable possible.”

Murphy promises to take the issue of hazing seriously this year and is pleased that the school is able to have a discussion at this point in the year. “We shouldn’t have to be hitting a team on the head by preventing them from competing,” Murphy said. “That’s the worst way to have to go about this.”