Vanderbilt University officials and members of the women's varsity lacrosse and tennis teams remain silent on the specifics surrounding two separate incidents of hazing after the school rolled out sanctions against both teams on Wednesday morning.
Vice Chancellor for University Affairs and Athletics David Williams said that he was not at liberty to disclose details about the incidents.
“I will not be at liberty to talk about the incidents themselves, but what I will say is that they met the definition of hazing,” Williams said.
The Hustler reached out to multiple members of the women's varsity lacrosse team following the announcement of the sanctions. Two players said they had to run the matter by their coach and had not responded to The Hustler's request by press time. One player said she would not talk about the hazing incident.
Vanderbilt defines hazing in the student handbook as “any act that may produce, or is intended to produce, mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule, or any acts that are humiliating, intimidating, or demeaning or that endangers the health and safety of another person."
Even activities such as scavenger hunts have come under scrutiny from the university for potentially violating the hazing policy, which expands on the minimal classification that all colleges and universities must follow under Tennessee state law.
Vanderbilt’s policy references the state law regarding hazing, which reads in full:
“Any intentional or reckless act in Tennessee on or off the property of any (college or university) by one student acting alone or with others which is directed against any other student, that endangers the mental or physical health or safety of that student, or which induces or coerces a student to endanger his or her mental or physical health or safety. Hazing does not include customary athletic events or similar contests or competitions, and is limited to those actions taken and situations created in connection with initiation into or affiliation with any organization.”
Williams said it was unclear at this point whether state law was violated.
“I do not know if any state laws were violated. What we do know is that the law does speak to hazing, but to the degree — we are currently unclear how (this incident) relates to the letter of the law,” Williams said.
As part of their sanctions, both teams are required to miss one scheduled contest. The penalty was a joint decision between Williams and the teams’ coaches, who Williams confirmed were unaware of the incidents.
“The coaches came in and sat down to talk with me,” Williams said. “We decided it would be the best thing going forward — that it would be best for them to stay back and have time to reflect on what happened.”
The women's tennis team did not participate in the Furman Fall Classic, its first scheduled event of the fall season, last weekend in Greenville, S.C. Its next scheduled events are the Riviera All-Americans in Pacific Palisades, Calif., from Oct. 1-7, and the Roberta Alison Fall Classic in Tuscaloosa, Ala., from Oct. 5-7.
As part of its punishment, the women's lacrosse team will not attend the Navy Fall Tournament on Oct. 13 in Annapolis, Md., as previously scheduled. The team's offseason Fall Ball schedule begins on Saturday with home games against Cincinnati and Louisville before a road trip to the Penn Play Day in Philadelphia on Oct. 20. A road game against Jacksonville on Feb. 3 kicks off the 16-game regular season schedule.
The Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity was notified of the incidents on Tuesday and will carry out separate punishment for individuals involved, according to Williams.
G.L. Black, assistant dean and director of the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, said that he and his office are investigating the incidents and will take appropriate action in accordance with Vanderbilt policies.
“Vanderbilt does not tolerate hazing of any kind — it is a violation of the Student Code of Conduct and students who engage in it may be subject to disciplinary proceedings and sanctions,” Black wrote in an email to The Hustler. “Hazing includes a wide range of activities, including embarrassing fellow students.”
The primary punishment, however, will be carried out internally — each coach may assess additional punishments to his team or individual players, according to the university’s statement.
“Much of the punishments will be what the coaches decide,” Williams said. “I imagine that some education around the idea of hazing will go on, and we are spending time on what the parameters of hazing may be.”
Both Williams and Vanderbilt Athletics Director of Communications Rod Williamson said while the incidents were not major violations, hazing at Vanderbilt will not be tolerated.
“What we want to make clear is that while no one was harmed and these incidents would probably not fit the public’s common perception of hazing, we took this seriously and are making a point to educate our student-athletes so this will never happen again,” Williamson said in a statement to The Hustler.
The announcement of the sanctions happens to coincide with National Hazing Prevention Week, an effort led by hazingprevention.org to educate and prevent hazing from occurring on campuses and within organizations.
According to a 2008 survey conducted by two University of Maine professors and cited by the website, 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing.
Information from Staff Contributor Kyle Blaine was used in this report.