In early January, Slippery Rock University’s men’s club ice hockey hazing case was resolved with a determination of a four-year suspension that will end in November 2024.
Through a group investigation, it was found in the university’s Hazing Institutional Report that the team was responsible for hazing connected to an annual “Rookie Day” event. According to the report, the event involved “excessive alcohol consumption, underage alcohol consumption, furnishing alcohol to minors, the provision of exotic dancers to target new members with exotic dancer activities, and the requirement of new members to participate in challenges including physical challenges such as a scavenger hunt and foot races.”
In her tenth year at SRU, Leigh Ann Gilmore acts as the director of the Office of Student Conduct. She collects alleged hazing referrals, assigns investigators, and reviews cases before offering a consequence based on what she’s seen.
“What I’d like for folks to understand is that this process has been going on for months and months and months,” Gilmore said. “This was not a snap decision […] and for good reason. We give students due process and we give student organizations due process.”
In cases such as that of the men’s ice hockey program, students and organizations can reject sanctions and receive a hearing. In some instances, the student or organization gets less of a consequence than originally offered, but Gilmore explained that, because of new information, evidence and witnesses, hearings could also lead to a harsher decision.
“It’s so much more comprehensive [and] it’s quite possible that an organization or a student might get a greater consequence,” she said.
Through the hearing procedure, witnesses can be called and questioned, and any information presented on behalf of the organization is permitted to be provided.
“A typical hearing for a case [such as the men’s ice hockey team] could be five to ten hours long,” Gilmore said. “This is not something that is taken lightly or is a quick decision by any stretch of the imagination.”
Once at hearing, the ruling is outside of Gilmore’s judgement. As it is evidence-based, the determination is made by a three-person board who are trained and independent from any of the parties involved. If the panel concludes the student or organization is in violation, it is provided with a potential sanction range. Gilmore said the four-year suspension was actually one less than a typical hazing penalty.
Brian Crow, a Slippery Rock professor, has spent two decades researching hazing in the world of athletics. He joined SRU’s anti-hazing prevention task force in 2017.
While the task force does not have any powers in enforcement or investigation, it works to look at what areas of campus life could be susceptible to hazing and finding ways to mitigate it.
With both hazing and bullying having become spotlit over the past decade, there are similarities, yet their purpose is quite different, Crow explained.
“In bullying, we’re trying to exclude people,” Crow said. “And in hazing we are trying to make people prove that they’re worthy of being part of our […] group.”
What makes something hazing can differ from state to state, depending on the wording in their statutes.
In the U.S., 44 states have hazing statutes on the books, including Pennsylvania. Of those states, only 10 make hazing a felony offense. In 2018, Pennsylvania made hazing a felony when it leads to serious injury or death.
The Piazza Anti-Hazing Law was created after the death of Penn State student Tim Piazza in 2017. Piazza died Feb. 4, 2017 after sustaining injuries from multiple falls during a night of heavy alcohol consumption as part of a Beta Theta Pi fraternity hazing ritual.
Along with making certain hazing charges felonies, the law requires universities in Pennsylvania to provide a report of all hazing allegations and investigations for the past five years.
SRU’s hazing report shows the university received 14 complaints of hazing from 2016 to 2021, including the allegations made against the men’s club ice hockey program. Of those 14 reports, four have resulted in a suspension of the organization and one has been put on probation.
According to Crow, one way to recognize hazing is to look at the context and whether a person would do something if it wasn’t required by the group. Whether a person consents to the act does not matter, Crow said. From the data he has seen, Crow said most consent because they want to belong to the group. A 2008 study found that 55% of students involved with athletics or student organizations experienced hazing.
“Most of the victims of hazing will say ‘Well, I did it on my own, nobody forced me,’” Crow said. “The insidious part is that these people are supposed to be your friends for life but they’re the ones [putting you in] dangerous and harmful activities you wouldn’t do otherwise.”
Gilmore understands the frustration coming from those invested in the team. Still, she stands by the hearing’s outcome.
“What I can respond to that is, this was an extremely thorough process,” Gilmore said. “I know that they’re upset about it […] and I know that it doesn’t make anyone feel better to say it’s less than [previous] organizations got. What’s challenging is that [unlike the hearing board], the people who are commenting on this case do not have all of the evidence and facts.”
Gilmore revealed that, in the beginning, there were allegations of non-consensual contact that were seen to have no sustaining evidence based on the investigation. Through the same investigation, Gilmore says, a number of other details came to light that were not in the referral.
Gilmore thinks that, looking at stricter sanctions, the university is trying to root out an entire culture. Hazing, she said, is normalized to the extent that a lot of people defend the right to do so.
“That’s not easy,” Gilmore said. “So, a lot of people criticize that, when you suspend an organization, you’re killing that organization. It’s really important to re-establish that organization without hazing as part of its culture.”
As part of hazing sanctions at SRU, people who were members before cannot help re-establish the group. It’s unfortunate, Gilmore said, because so many of those involved with the program, such as alumni and parents, brought the enthusiasm that made the team what it was.
She let it be known that the situation wasn’t black-and-white and that she sees the positives that the men’s hockey team brought to the community, as well as acknowledging how much time and money was put into building the program.
“If they can carry through [with] that passion, […] I think that it absolutely could be re-established, because there’s a lot interest in that sport,” Gilmore said. “It’s heartbreaking, really. It’s sad on my end […] The [ruling] doesn’t mean they didn’t offer positive things.”
She hopes that the program is eventually able to recognize, with perspective, that the ruling wasn’t personal.
“They are not going to feel good about this any time soon,” Gilmore said. “I’m hoping that, with some time, when they look back, and hopefully with some life experience in the future, that they will understand why this was taken so seriously.”