The recent controversy over hazing among club sports teams at the College has, justifiably, raised a great deal of concern on campus. However, the issue has been handled in the least productive manner possible, and has mostly been the byproduct of hearsay and cowardice.
I hope to clear up some of the questions that have been raised in recent weeks, and to challenge the administration to start handling itself in a manner befitting its position at this school.
As a member of the Williams College Rugby Football Club, I cannot claim objectivity on this matter. However, my particular experience is unique enough to give me what I consider to be a reasonably balanced perspective. I came to this campus absolutely dead-set on playing rugby. I had bought books on the sport, some practice jerseys and a pair of cleats. However, once I got on campus and heard all the rumors of rugby team hazing (the same rumors that appear to be motivating Dean Murphy now) I decided to join the crew team instead. As a junior, I quit crew and came back to give rugby a try.
My moral standards have not changed dramatically since freshman year; I have not developed an affinity for forced drinking, nor do I think that binge drinking is “cool.” Nevertheless, I haven’t seen anything on the rugby team that could meet any reasonable definition of hazing. If I had, I would have quit – plain and simple. People go to rugby parties if and when they desire, and there is no such thing as being made to drink at these parties, should one choose to attend. One member of the class of 1998 came to almost every rugby event over his four years at Williams and drank Dr. Pepper exclusively. He was an integral part of the team both on and off the field, and his abstinence did not change this one bit.
That said, most rugby players drink a lot. This is true for rugby teams all around the world and the reason is simple: you have to be crazy to play rugby. A completely rational human being with the instinct of self-preservation would probably not be drawn to a game that is often described as tackle football without pads. When rugby players get together, they sometimes drink in similarly crazy ways. This is not the relevant issue. The matter at hand is whether or not members of the team are told to drink, or threatened with some sort of quid pro quo if they refuse. They are not…ever.
Dean Murphy seems to think that the mere presence of intense drinking among members of a particular team produces such irresistible peer pressure on those who would rather not drink that it is equivalent to hazing. This is the most ludicrous standard possible. How can a college propose to protect people who can’t make decisions for themselves? Those people are doomed in this world, and cracking down on the rugby team is not going to help them one iota.
The recent College Council meeting, which Dean Murphy was conveniently absent from, was full of club team members from all classes categorically denying the existence of any and all hazing on their teams. That is one issue, and there is little else one can say about it. The other issue that I see in the hazing debate, the issue which is far more troubling to me, is the administration’s exclusive focus on club sports.
Rugby is one of the only sports without freshman initiation parties. All of the JAs at the CC meeting, and others I have talked to since, have said that it is the initiation parties of varsity sports teams, and not rugby parties, that leave their first-years with alcohol poisoning. One JA even told me that one of his first-years, attending a varsity sport initiation party, was made to stand against a wall with his hands at his sides while upperclassmen hurled potatoes at him and his classmates.
Why, with all the available evidence that varsity sports teams are the real hazers on this campus, is Dean Murphy so hell-bent on persecuting club teams? The answer is that he doesn’t want to pick a fight with alumni or the athletic department. Club teams, without backing from the administration, are easier targets for Murphy to go after. He can attack us and then claim that he has scored a victory against excessive drinking, without ever addressing the real issue of who exactly is hazing on campus.
There is a word for a person who picks the wrong fight because he is afraid of the right one. The word is coward. I challenge Dean Murphy to stop acting like a coward and start acting like a responsible member of the College administration. If he wants to investigate hazing, then he should stop this half-assed crusade against any easy target he can find. If he wants to leave his mark on this school by cracking down on binge-drinking, then he may actually have to step on some toes in the Athletic Department. It won’t be easy, but it won’t be cowardly either.
If the administration is unprepared to do this, then it should stop cracking down selectively and start treating us like college students. This is obviously the preferable option. With every passing year, the Deans have been taking responsibility away from the students, with this year being the most drastic example. I don’t want to see the school go after the football team any more than I want to see it cracking down on rugby, but if Dean Murphy wants to stop hazing, then maybe he should consider looking at teams that actually haze. Otherwise he will just be continuing this cowardly witch hunt, which may produce some PR victories for him, but ultimately will bring us no closer to a hazing-free campus.