College Council (CC) voted to censure Frosh Revue for violating the College’s hazing policy and Massachusetts state law at its Oct. 15 meeting.
The College first took action after a first-year complained to Dean Bolton in early September about feeling uncomfortable in the performance group. Several other students also expressed concerns about partaking in a longstanding tradition called “Hell Week,” which serves as an initiation for new members, all of whom are first-years.
Under the censure, which is in effect for 26 months, Frosh Revue is removed from the subgroup allocation process and required to undergo training with the Office of Student Life at the beginning of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years. In addition, the group must transition from a WSO to a Google listserv, creating a digital archive of all emails sent between group members. If Frosh Revue is found guilty of another violation in the next 18 months, the group will face suspension for a minimum of one year. A suspension would forbid the group from holding events on campus for the entirety of its duration.
Frosh Revue is a student performance group that consists of a group of ten first-year performers and four sophomore directors. The group, which is part of the umbrella Cap and Bells theater organization, parodies first year life at Williams, performing a number of times throughout the school year. Cap and Bells, which received over $2000 from CC in its initial allocation of funding this year, cannot request funding for Frosh Revue in its itemized budget for the next two academic years, as per the group’s probation.
“It is primarily a community for unconventional individuals to support each other and create a safe space for personal expression,” the directors wrote in an email. “It saddens us to know that someone within the organization could have felt threatened. We never have, and never will, deliberately harm any of our members emotionally or physically.”
After students came forward to the administration, the case was brought to the Student Organizations Sanctions Committee (SOSC), formed in Fall 2013, which hears cases about student organization issues related to hazing. SOSC recommended that CC censure the group. As part of the formal censure policy, Frosh Revue is no longer eligible to receive CC funding. However, the group doesn’t use CC funds for its shows, and instead relies on ticket revenues for funding.
Although SOSC considered suspension as an option, the committee determined that this action would only further punish the first-years, who are already the victims of the hazing.
At the CC meeting, Griffith Simon, VP of Student Organization, explained that Frosh Revue has an established tradition of Hell Week, which “demeans incoming students.” During this week, first-years are made to feel purposefully uncomfortable and awkward in the group. There was no drinking involved.
This year, the week, which normally lasts from Monday through Friday, was cut short on Tuesday because of several complaints from Junior Advisors.
On Friday of the same week, one student forwarded an email to Dean Bolton from the directors. The email included profane language, phrases telling first-years to refrain from eating and warnings about physically strenuous behavior. The directors present at the meeting explained that this email was taken out of context and that these references are part of a rhetoric developed and understood by first years with certain words used as code words, such as the term “track meet” used to refer to the group’s upcoming performance.
“Contrary to misconceptions, Hell Week had always been intended as an affectionate, transparent parody of initiation rituals,” according to the directors. During this time, the directors acted as “exaggerated caricatures who offered over-the-top constructive criticism of the freshmen’s improv scenes.”
In response to the complaints, the directors are in the process of making several changes to their constitution, including eradicating the tradition informally known as Hell Week. They have also submitted a document outlining other specific alterations they plan to make to past traditions.
Although College policy does not allow Bolton to say whether or not her office is considering taking individual disciplinary action against the directors of Frosh Revue, she explained the punishments the College might adminsiter.
“In terms of our general approach, hazing is a violation of both our code of conduct for individuals and our requirements for organizations. It can also be a violation of Massachusetts law,” Bolton said. “The responsibilities of the Dean’s Office lie in coordinating and assisting with investigations (which have the same sorts of aspects as other investigations of potential violations of the code of conduct, such as interviews with those who may have information about what took place as well as working with Campus Safety and Security on other evidence that may be available), sharing that evidence with Ben [Lamb] and SOSC and considering whether individuals violated the code of conduct. If individuals are found to have violated the College’s code of conduct, then we need to determine a sanction that is appropriate to the particular situation. The full possible range of sanctions include educational sanctions and warnings, disciplinary probation, suspension or expulsion (permanent separation from the College).
The group will still perform during Family Days next weekend.