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Bowdoin controversy accelerates into confusion: consultant and team in disagreement

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Hazing investigation results to be made public next week
December 7, 2007

By Nat Herz
Orient Staff

Bowdoin’s investigation into allegations of hazing by the sailing and women’s squash teams has been completed, but Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster said that because the teams involved have not yet been notified, the results would not be made available to the public until next week.

The investigation, conducted by Director of Athletics Jeff Ward and Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett, was organized by Foster in response to an October article in the Portland Press Herald.

In the article, Dr. Susan Lipkins, whom the Press Herald identified as a “national expert on hazing,” alleged that photos of the women’s squash team posted online showed “mild hazing.”

The sports editor of the Press Herald said that “a source” had tipped him off to the photos, posted on Webshots.com.

In addition to completing the report, Foster has begun preliminary steps toward the creation of a specific college policy on hazing. Currently, the college policy on hazing is embedded in the “Conduct Unbecoming to a Bowdoin Student” section of the Social Code.

“My feeling is that this topic…needs to be more than a word referenced under ‘Conduct Unbecoming to a Bowdoin Student,'” Foster said. “We need to have a clear community understanding of what constitutes hazing, and we need to have a policy about hazing.”

Foster added that while he does not believe serious hazing happens at Bowdoin, he does think that less serious instances do.

“I think it’s mild in nature, but that doesn’t mean it’s not problematic or could become problematic,” he said.

Ward agreed, though he also said that he did not think hazing was a serious problem at Bowdoin.

“I believe that there are some things that have gone on that meet the technical definition of hazing,” he said.

Foster said that any new policy would ultimately come from the Student Affairs Committee (SAC), which is made up of faculty, students, and administrators. President Barry Mills would then have to approve it before it became part of the Student Handbook.

A new policy would be shaped by input from many different groups, Foster, said, including Bowdoin Student Government. He added that the College would probably also examine other schools’ hazing policies, as well as the NCAA’s and NESCAC’s.

The adoption of a new policy would also entail a more explicit definition of hazing, Foster said.

“From the conversations we’ve had as a community, this is not a black and white issue,” said Foster. “We need to better define what constitutes hazing and what the expectations are.”

Foster has created a preliminary document titled “Toward a Definition of Hazing,” that he will discuss with the Student Affairs Committee (SAC) at its next meeting. He said the he would like to like to draft a preliminary policy over the semester break, and then use the next semester to vet and discuss it.

Also, last Wednesday the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs brought Lipkins, the hazing expert, to campus. She conducted a development session with 40 to 50 members of the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, including coaches and members of the Office of Residential Life.

In the evening, Lipkins gave a lecture to a group of specifically targeted juniors who were athletes, residential life staff, or club leaders.

Foster said that these juniors were invited because “these will be the people who will be helping to shape the culture of the place.”

In a follow-up discussion held by Foster on Tuesday, students said that they disagreed with Lipkins’s message.

“I think her definition of hazing was much too sensitive,” said David Funk ’10, a member of the squash team.

“She was making some ridiculous assertions, like getting freshmen to bring water to the fields is hazing,” said Rob Lynn ’09, also a squash team member.

Foster said that while he felt Lipkins’s presentation was valuable, he thought that she was “highly provocative.”

“I found her presentation didn’t meet us as a community, but that’s hard when you’re an outside perspective coming in,” he said. “The most positive part of her presentation was her ability to generate dialogue on campus…She got people really talking and thinking about it, and that’s positive.”

But students at the debriefing asserted that most rituals and traditions among Bowdoin sports teams are innocuous.

“People don’t try to hurt people they care about,” said Stephen Gonzales ’09, a member of the sailing team. “Nobody wants to haze anybody else…If you’re part of a team, you obviously have to have some sort of special relationship with your teammates if you want to perform.”

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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