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.