Author: Joe Siegal
Occidental College revised its policies for the 2012-2013 school year in an effort to stifle incidents of hazing and outline consequences. The College strives to disrupt hazing due to its potential risks, which have been felt by the Occidental community in the past. In 2002, a hazing incident involving the ATO fraternity turned fatal, as Greg Davis ’05 was killed in a car accident, leading to the fraternity being banned.
“Greg Davis’ death devastated the campus, and all of us want to make sure a tragedy like that never happens again,” Jim Tranquada, the College’s Director of Communications said via email. The College’s hazing policy is wide-reaching so that athletes do not encounter dangerous situations which could be similarly life threatening.
Occidental’s policy defines hazing as “any actions taken or situation created to produce or cause mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule with our without the individual’s consent.” Three distinct categories of hazing are recognized by the college. These are subtle, harassment, and violent hazing, and the College makes clear that any incident fitting its definition is grounds for investigation or punishment.
“There’s a real fine line between what’s bonding and what’s hazing,” water polo coach Larry Zubrin said. “A lot of times what it comes down to is any forcible action, or anything that’s perceived as forcible,” Zubrin added. When the administration sees actions that are clearly characteristic of hazing, severe punishment ensues.
“We do not focus on the individual or group’s intention or reasoning behind those acts to determine responsibility,” Emily Harris, the College’s Associate Director for Student Advocacy and Accountability said via email, noting that any hazing is punishable regardless of intent. Any act defined as hazing can be investigated, which can lead to disciplinary repercussions through the College’s conduct system.
“We stress the importance of understanding the hazing policy during the mandatory student-athlete eligibility meetings. We also discussed the new policy at our all-staff kick-off retreat in August. We take hazing very seriously,” Director of Athletics Jaime Hoffman said via email. These meetings are mandatory and attempt to ensure that athletes learn the college’s policies, but opinions on the effectiveness of these measures differ within the Athletics community.
“I think that Occidental does a strong job of targeting athletes, and making them attend a lot of anti-hazing, anti-alcohol, anti-rape speakers and seminars. And I don’t think it’s necessarily effective in getting the message across because instead of feeling like we have an opportunity to learn about all the ways we can get hurt, it kind of pegs us as the only people who could do anything wrong,” a member of the women’s swim team said, who asked to remain anonymous. Other athletes also question Occidental’s anti-hazing education efforts.
“They almost just kind of say ‘don’t haze.’ They don’t really say what it [hazing] is,” a women’s water polo player said, who asked to remain anonymous. Athletics administration and coaches claim the policies are outlined adequately.
“It is a shame that the take away from the eligibility meeting was ‘don’t haze’,” Hoffman said via email in response to the statements by an athletes above. “We define [hazing] and reference where to find the topic in the student handbook.”
But Hoffman does realize that there are some potential flaws in the system. “There is so much content in that one meeting that I could see some messages being lost,” she said via email. ”However, by raising ‘hazing’ as a potential issue around our department, we feel that coaches can continue the conversation with their respective teams.”
Even though the Athletics department educates players about hazing each season, a major part of hazing prevention at Occidental lies with the players themselves.
“There are day-to-day things that are going on within the team that myself and the college may not know about. It’s a part of the general team chemistry and communication,” swimming Coach Shea Manning said. Manning says he believes the college’s policies make the players wary of potential consequences that could jeopardize their athletic careers.
Some athletes share a similar sentiment of caution. “The stigma towards a football team was sort of making us cautious that everyone’s looking to see it [hazing]. Everyone was conscious of it,” a former football player who preferred to remain anonymous said, adding that team captains were particularly helpful in making sure that no one was embarrassed or humiliated. The accountability of team leaders was universally praised among the athletes and coaches interviewed.
Despite the administration’s conscious attempts to reinforce its hazing policy, there still appears to be a disconnect between them and their student-athletes. It will take a collaborative effort among all athletes, coaches, and the administration to eliminate hazing from the Occidental campus.
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