EDITORIAL: End Athletic Hazing

September 23, 2013 11:22 pm6 comments

Cornell’s athletics department released a statement Thursday announcing the men’s varsity lacrosse team has been sanctioned for hazing new members. It is one of the few times the University has disciplined an athletic team for hazing in several years, and the consequences seem to be little more than a slap on the wrist. We have been relatively satisfied with Cornell’s response to high-risk drinking in the Greek system; the administration has rolled out substantial reforms, both preventative and reactive, since it committed to the fight against hazing in 2011. But the same activity seems to have gone unchecked elsewhere on campus — including within Cornell athletics.

The penalty handed down for the violation — which, according to the University, involved pressuring freshmen into chugging beer until several of them vomited — is the cancellation of “all Fall 2013 competitions.” Those competitions refer to a mere three scrimmages that were on the team’s schedule for the semester as of the time of their suspension. The collegiate men’s lacrosse season occurs during the spring, not the fall; and the nationally competitive Cornell team will still be permitted to practice as usual in the months leading up to game play. While the mandatory anti-hazing education programming the University prescribed is important, the punishment hardly seems painful enough to be an effective deterrent against repeat behavior. It certainly seems insufficient to discourage other teams from engaging in similar activity.

This latest reprimand is the first on record against a Cornell athletic team in the past six years, according to the University’s anti-hazing website. By comparison, there have been about 30 documented violations against Greek chapters during the same period. One possible defense of this discrepancy is that hazing may be more pervasive in the Greek system than among athletes. The athletic community is also significantly smaller than the Greek community. These factors may well render hazing less common among sports teams than within chapters. Nonetheless, the lacrosse team’s transgression simply cannot be the only case of serious hazing to have occurred among Cornell’s 34 varsity athletic teams in the past six years.

It is likely easier for the administration to shut down a fraternity chapter; there are at least 30 more where they came from, and their support base is generally limited to the current brotherhood and a smattering of involved alumni. For the most part, they go down quietly. Suspending sports teams — which often generate significant popular support and bring in alumni donations — from competition requires a much greater sacrifice by the University. A drop in league standing and a loss of prestige in the national collegiate athletic community could also become a source of embarrassment for Cornell. But if the administration intends to make good on its promise to combat hazing in all corners of campus life, including athletics, as well as student groups outside of the Greek system, it must be willing to dispense judicial consequences with an even hand.

We do recognize how difficult it is to draw a bright line between new member education that is acceptable and that which is harmful. We understand how widespread the problem of hazing is on ours and other college campuses, and that the University cannot possibly identify and eradicate every single occurrence. Cornell has made great strides since it announced its mission to end dangerous pledging, demonstrating a willingness to hold Greek organizations to a higher standard and to discipline those that fall short. We hope this latest action is only the first step in an expansion of the anti-hazing fight to cover all of Cornell’s student communities.

  • Jason Weston

    By and large, very well put. Of course, athletic teams will generally get more of a pass than will other somewhat less prominent institutional structures at Cornell (f they really wanted to send a message, they’d have cancelled the season. Period). There are any number of reasons, many of which you touch on.

    And, of course, the University will do whatever it can to shield the sanctity of the ‘institutional reputation’, by doing what it can to hide the fact that there is even a penalty in place (ask yourself — why is it that there is no mention of the suspension on http://www.cornell.edu — you have to dig — deeply — to finding the hazing site, and even there, finding the specifics of this incident, and the penalty, takes a bit of work). And, of course, the timing couldn’t have been worse — right before homecoming, when the University, and the various elements of propaganda under their control, do everything they can to make Cornell seem purer than driven snow. I’d hazard a guess there was a lot of pressure to ‘keep this quiet’ (especially before homecoming, lest they offend the sensibilities — and wallets — of returning alumni/potential doners) — except that every media service in the world reported it, and if you search for Cornell, guess what comes up pretty high in the search results?

  • Dave Perry

    “A slap on the wrist” and canceling a couple scrimmages – could there be any lesser punishment?

    • Even Hand

      This sums things up perfectly. I’m not a fan of what the university is doing to the greek system, BUT if they are going to kick off frats for having hazing events exactly like this, they need to do equivalent punishments for all other student groups.

      At least the university would have some respect by even the greek members denouncing it. However, as long as they hold the greek system to a different standard, the university really just looks like it’s “picking on” the greek system.

  • Alex

    Wow — I guess the ability to make sweeping negative statements on minimal evidence qualifies one to join the editorial board. I spent eight years participating in or coaching varsity athletics at Cornell, and attest that it is an experience that enriches each athlete’s college years greatly. Athletes bond deeply, because implicit trust is necessary to team success and because of significant shared sacrifice. The guys I played with and coached cared for each other greatly and would not have tolerated abuse of their teammates. Cornell would be a richer place if you figured out how to replicate that bonding experience for every student, versus indulging your preconceived notions of the failings of yet another University institution.

    • Even Hand

      so you’re advocating hazing for bonding? what are you talking about?

      • Alex

        I take issue with the assumption that hazing is pervasive among athletic teams. My point is that bonding prevents hazing, not promotes it. I have no problem with the University addressing abusive behavior, and thought the actions taken with regard to the lacrosse team were appropriate. I just think it a rarity and urge caution before issuing blanket indictments.