The Slippery Rock women’s rugby club has been sentenced to a five-year suspension stemming from hazing violations committed over the past seven to eight years, according to Leigh Ann Gilmore, the Director of Student Conduct at SRU.
“We received some information they were participating in a scavenger hunt that involved activities that were either against the law or humiliating to the students, so we called them in and did an investigation. We did find women’s rugby responsible for hazing under the code of conduct and they were suspended for five years,” Gilmore said.
While the women’s rugby club may act as a team outside of SRU, Gilmore said the university no longer recognizes the team as an organization.
“They cannot operate as an SRU organization. They cannot operate as a team so, for example, they cannot play intramurals as a team,” Gilmore explained. “They can’t have any type of SRU recognition or funding. Essentially, SRU women’s rugby does not exist… for the next five years.”
Written in the SRU Student Code of Conduct, under the Appendix D: Hazing Policy, “students arrested and convicted for the charge of hazing are subject to a one-year jail term.” Gilmore explained how the rugby club’s cooperation with the office of student conduct during the investigation allowed the student-athletes to avoid any direct legal prosecution.
“The club agreed to the sanction and violations. If it had gone to a hearing, individuals could have been charged, but the club agreed to the sanction, so my office did not bring charges against individuals,” explained Gilmore. “The organization was sanctioned, not individuals.”
According to the Code of Conduct in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, 18 Pa.C.S. § 2801 et. seq., hazing is described as:
A person commits the offense of hazing if the person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly, for the purpose of initiating, admitting or affiliating a student, applicant or admitted individual into or with an organization, or for the purpose of continuing or enhancing the membership or status of a student, applicant or admitted individual in an organization, causes, coerces or forces a student, applicant or admitted individual to do any of the following:
• Violate federal or state criminal law;
• Consume any food, drink, alcoholic liquid, drug or other substance that subjects the student, applicant or admitted individual to a risk of emotional or physical harm;
• Endure brutality of a physical nature, including whipping, beating, branding, calisthenics or exposure to the elements;
• Endure brutality of a mental nature, including activity adversely affecting the mental health or dignity of the individual, sleep deprivation, exclusion from social contact or conduct that could result in extreme embarrassment;
• Endure brutality of a sexual nature; and
• Endure any other activity that creates a reasonable likelihood of bodily injury to the student, applicant or admitted individual.
Similar to the SRU men’s rugby club’s suspension in 2016, Gilmore said an organization’s history of misconduct is taken into consideration when sanctions are levied against an organization convicted of misconduct.
“Each case is different, so what we look at when we’re sanctioning is: does an organization have a history of hazing? Is this a first-time incident? We also look at consistency in terms of other organizations,” Gilmore said. “We always try to be educational, of course, but when there’s a culture of hazing within an organization, the only real thing to do is remove that organization and start fresh.”
Gilmore credits Pennsylvania’s new anti-hazing law, spurred to action by the death of a Penn State student at a fraternity house in 2017, with giving her more support in attempting to end the culture of hazing in some SRU organizations. However, her heart aches for those students who joined the rugby club to make a positive impact on the team’s culture.
“This has been happening for a long time. There was at least one instance of this happening around seven or eight years ago, so this has been part of their culture, part of their identity and part of the organization. We have to eliminate it,” said Gilmore. “The saddest part of it for me is that some of the new members were so invested in the organizations and had already made some changes to attempt to change the culture of the organization.”
After the five-year suspension runs its course, Gilmore said the club will be eligible to be re-established as a university recognized organization. If all stipulations are met and the possibility of hazing permeating within the club is non-existent, she hopes the club will be revived.
According to Gilmore, one of her stipulations is no one who was involved with the club may be involved with a potential restoration. If a group would wish to revive the club after the suspension expires, Gilmore said they would need to cooperate with Lauren Moran, the Director of Student Engagement and Leadership, and her office.
While Gilmore said she would rather not divulge just how the office of student conduct first heard about the hazing allegations, she said all referrals must be backed up by proficient evidence. If that evidence is strong enough, an investigation follows.
Currently, Gilmore is in the process of creating new ways for student-athletes, coaches and parents to voice their concerns about misconduct, including hazing.
“If someone comes forward and makes a complaint about hazing, we will follow up on that to determine if it’s valid or not,” Gilmore said. “We are working on getting an anonymous referral, that’s in the works right now, because we really want to eliminate that hazing culture.”
Despite how heartbroken Gilmore is for recently joined student-athletes who were looking to make a change, she firmly believes in rooting a problem out at the source. Especially when that problem is hazing.
“It’s unfortunate because I see the bonds that are created, I see the friendship made and it’s unfortunate. It’s not that the friendships are going to go away but it’s sad because there was a lot of good that came out of the organization but the hazing that was occurring, we don’t have a place for it. I feel firmly that we have to take hazing seriously.”