Thursday, April 24, 2014
Another hazing incident at Bowdoin College has prompted the school to impose sanctions that rule out postseason play for its nationally ranked men's tennis team.
Two years ago, Bowdoin voluntarily forfeited its first-ever New England Small College Athletic Conference championship in men's hockey after school officials discovered a postseason hazing initiation of first-year players and a subsequent attempt to cover it up.
Also in 2011, the Meddiebempsters – the oldest of Bowdoin's six a cappella singing groups -- were punished for hazing of first-year students involving alcohol and a scavenger hunt, according to the student newspaper, the Bowdoin Orient.
And in 2007, the college determined that members of the women's squash team and, to a lesser extent, the sailing team had been involved in hazing incidents in previous years.
Bowdoin provided few details of the latest incident, which was announced to the college community Wednesday in a letter from Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster and Athletic Director Tim Ryan.
"It is important to note that none of the actions taken by team members placed any individual in physical danger," said a portion of the eight-paragraph letter. "That said, this is clearly a case of poor judgment by team members and an unfortunate example of a lack of leadership by students who should know better."
Foster and Ryan wrote that "a concerned student unaffiliated with the team" brought the matter to their attention. After interviewing team members, the administrators determined that "the team engaged in activities that clearly violate the Bowdoin Social Code as well as our very well-articulated and frequently explained policy that prohibits hazing."
Conor Smith, Bowdoin's head tennis coach, did not return a phone call seeking comment. Because the team has fall and spring seasons, Smith had twice warned his team about hazing, the letter said.
"Every coach goes over this," said Jim Caton, Bowdoin's assistant athletic director for communications. "The spring conversation occurred three or four days before the incident."
The Polar Bears reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III men's tennis tournament last spring and are now ranked sixth in the country with a record of 9-2.
Because of the school's sanctions, the team will forfeit its next four matches -- against MIT, Williams, Colby and Middlebury -- and any chance of participating in postseason play, for the team and for individuals.
The NCAA is not involved with the sanctions.
"This is a team that had a chance to win a national championship," Caton said, "which makes this even more unfortunate."
The Polar Bears will resume play April 20 with a home match against Brandeis, followed by matches at Amherst and Bates before concluding their season in Brunswick against Tufts.
"I'm sure they were planning on playing deep into May," Caton said, "but they're going to be done on April 26."
The letter from Foster and Ryan addresses claims similar to those from past hazing incidents -- that students feel obligated to continue longstanding traditions, and that participation is optional.
"These traditions must be built on mutual respect, not artificial connections and shared humiliation," said the letter.
"Simply put, Bowdoin has zero tolerance for hazing of any kind, whether dangerous and reckless or simply servile and degrading.
"And we categorically reject an 'opt out' strategy as a way to justify or excuse these activities."
The letter concludes by expressing hope that others will "abandon any traditions that include hazing" so that similar letters will be "a thing of the past at Bowdoin."
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: