Club athletes must sign hazing waivers

by Julia Levy | 10/16/00 5:00am

Prompted by widely-published accounts of athletic hazing at other schools as well as the Trustee Initiative's goals of reducing peer pressure and unsafe social practices, the College is in the process of rewriting its hazing policy.

While no new changes have been instituted in the Greek system to date, the athletic department has already started on the course toward changing perceptions and policies.

This year, for the first time, members of club sports teams had to sign waivers certifying that they read and understood Dartmouth's hazing policy. Also, the sessions intercollegiate athletes must attend before they compete now includes information about hazing.

"What we're trying to do as a committee is find out what is psychologically harmful and physically harmful," explained Associate Director of Athletics Jo-Ann Nester, who is the Athletic Department's representative on the College hazing committee as well as the group adjudication committee.

She said her department has not been aware of any hazing in the past, but recent events on a national level, as well as data from recent studies, have highlighted the large amount of hazing that affects college athletes.

"We're not sure we have any. We're not saying we don't. But we certainly want to find out if we do," Nester said.

Currently, the Student Handbook says hazing is strictly prohibited and violations are unacceptable at the College and in the state of New Hampshire. But Nester and Senior Associate Dean of the College Dan Nelson both described the current definition as unspecific and hard to apply at Dartmouth.

The handbook defines hazing as an act of coercion or intimidation that would be "perceived by a reasonable person as likely to cause physical or psychological injury to any person." It also says an act of intimidation that "is a condition of initiation into, admission into, continued membership in or association with any organization" is classified as hazing.

The policy goes on to state that people are in violation of the hazing policy if they knowingly participate in hazing, if they submit to hazing or fail to report it, if they knowingly let hazing happen or if they fail to prevent hazing from happening in the first place.

"We want to identify a broader-based definition so we can identify and eliminate hazing," Nester said.

Much of the actions to guard against hazing stemmed out of last year's widely-publicized case of hazing at the University of Vermont when the men's ice hockey season was canceled due to hazing violations, in which, among other lewd acts, upperclassmen forced younger players to walk holding each other's genitals.

Last year, after news of UVM's season cancellation broke, athletic department officials and team players at Dartmouth denied that hazing was a problem at Dartmouth.

"I've heard about incidents and antics that go on around certain fraternities and sororities," Dartmouth College Athletic Director Dick Jaeger '59 told The Dartmouth at the time. "I don't think you can make the connection that since something goes on at a house and 80 percent of its members are on a team, that it's a team related thing. It's not a team related thing, it's a house related thing."

Nester called the UVM incident a "wakeup call for everyone in College athletics."

As Dartmouth moves forward with its hazing policy evaluation, it is looking to other institutions and studies as models.

Nelson said the Alfred University August 1999 study on hazing has been one of Dartmouth's hazing committee's key sources. Alfred's president, Edward Coll, Jr., initiated a commission to investigate hazing following a fall 1998 incident there.

The study, which contacted 3,000 NCAA coaches and 10,000 athletes from 244 schools, separated hazing into four categories -- acceptable, questionable, alcohol-related and unacceptable.

Hazing that was deemed "acceptable" included positive activities like community service, dressing up for team functions and participating in group bonding activities like rope courses or retreats.

Questionable activities included being yelled, cursed or sworn at, being forced to wear embarrassing clothing, tattooing, piercing, head shaving or branding, acting as a personal servant and being forced to consume disgusting concoctions.

The study found that 65 percent of respondents had been involved in at least one of these activities.

And 80 percent of those who were subjected to questionable hazing activities were also involved in the "unacceptable" variety, which included drinking alcohol on recruitment visits, participating in drinking contests, harassing others, destroying property, stealing and engaging in or simulating sexual acts.

The study suggested a three-part plan to combat hazing: sending a clear anti-hazing message, expecting responsibility, integrity and civility and offering team-building initiation rites.

Nester said Dartmouth is already moving forward in educating its team players about hazing by adding the hazing segment to the informational sessions that in the past have included topics like NCAA regulations, drug testing and nutrition.

The College is also developing educational programs for its athletes and coaches drawing from on-campus and off-campus resources.

"This is a process we're beginning now," she said. "We've really not given this the attention in the past because we really have not perceived a problem. We're trying to be as proactive as possible."

She said she did not think Dartmouth athletes want to haze, but that they need to know and understand the College's policy before they can knowingly prevent it.

Assistant Director of Physical Education and Recreation Steve Erickson, who coordinates club sports, called the new club sports hazing waiver proactive.

"It's just that the Dartmouth College administration has made it apparent to us that we need to do whatever we can to make sure that everyone understands the hazing policy," he said. "We want to make everyone know that there is a hazing statement and that [the College] won't put up with any hazing."

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