I write often in the Bowdoin Daily Sun about my appreciation for the accomplishments of Bowdoin students. But it is also important to admit that sometimes our students make mistakes. We are not perfect, and we must acknowledge the rare events when we fail to live up to our aspirations and sometimes fail to remember our core values. These values include clear social and honor codes, and at times throughout our history, the College has had to take stands in order to protect and advance these important principles.
We learned last week that members of our NESCAC champion men’s ice hockey team had recently conducted a post-season initiation of first-year members. After a full investigation, we determined that this initiation clearly violated Bowdoin’s Social Code and our very well articulated policy that prohibits hazing. This policy, which is published on the College website and reviewed each year as part of our team captains’ training, states in part that:
“A learning community has a distinctive set of values and qualities meant to support individual growth and development. At Bowdoin, we value traditions, rituals, and rites of passage because they remind community members of their connections to one another and to the past and future of the College; they can build important bonds between groups and individuals. Athletic team or student organization initiations or traditions, however, that attempt to build these bonds between members, must do so in an affirming way without coercion of any kind. In a learning community such as ours, we value lasting relationships grounded in mutual respect, not artificial connections created through shared humiliation.”
The discovery that members of our men’s ice hockey team had willfully disregarded this well-established policy was bad enough. Compounding the problem was the fact that team members were not forthcoming when confronted about the incident.
After a great deal of consideration and with genuine regret, the College decided to forfeit officially Bowdoin’s first-ever NESCAC championship in men’s ice hockey that was earned by the team in March. This action—supported by me, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster, Director of Athletics Jeff Ward, and Head Men’s Ice Hockey Coach Terry Meagher—is intended to send an unambiguous message that Bowdoin will not tolerate this sort of behavior, nor will we compromise the values of this institution when confronted with clear violations of College policy. In addition to vacating the NESCAC title, the College has imposed individual sanctions where appropriate, and there will likely be consequences within Athletics and educational programs to follow as a result of this incident.
I recognize that this is a tough consequence, particularly for our seniors. I personally celebrated with the team on the ice when they beat Williams for the title. These are good people who accomplished a great deal this year with the guidance of our truly legendary coach, Terry Meagher. They worked hard and they achieved their goal. But these players are all members of the larger Bowdoin community, and they are and must be held to the same high standards that have long defined this College. There is much more to celebrate at our College and in our athletic program than mere victory on the ice. We certainly celebrate victory and acknowledge loss, but only when conducted by participants who abide by and respect the College’s principles. With their recent actions, the team has lost the right to be recognized as champions.
I want to stress that no student was harmed physically in these events. But students were exposed to a situation in clear violation of the College’s hazing policy.
As Dean Foster wrote in a letter to each of the players, it is during periods of crisis that we have the opportunity to learn and to move forward as people and as citizens. We can all learn from success, but sometimes, we can learn even more from failure. Bowdoin and our players will survive and flourish without an extra championship banner hanging in Watson Arena. And as our seniors take the steps of the Walker Art Building next Saturday to receive their diplomas, it is my hope and expectation that Bowdoin will be an even stronger college because of this experience and the opportunities for learning and reflection that it presents.
In the coming weeks, I will continue to offer my thoughts on subjects interesting to me or of importance to the College, but I want to hear your ideas too. If there is a subject you’d like me to address, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org