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Ohio State crew club team faces suspension sentence for hazing

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The Ohio State crew club team tradition of spending spring break at Lake Lure, N.C., could cost the team its next fall and spring seasons after the team was found to have violated OSU’s rules against hazing during its 2013 trip.

The team of about 60 students faces a suspension sentence from OSU Student Conduct through Dec. 21, 2014, as punishment for hazing and other rule-breaking that occurred over the course of Spring Break 2013.

The club was served its interim suspension sentence March 28, OSU Student Life spokesman Dave Isaacs said. The team was in North Carolina from March 8 to 15, according to its website.

The crew team has until Tuesday, however, to appeal the sanctions, which Kathleen Martini, a varsity member of the team and a second-year in journalism, said in an email the team and some of the individuals facing their own related sanctions are going to pursue.

Martini said that during the annual trip, the team practices or works out three times per day and then gathers in the evenings for team-building activities. Those activities —including decorating men’s briefs underwear for women novice rowers and T-shirts for men’s novice rowers to wear and shaving the men’s heads — have been determined to be hazing.

“On one night, we tell (the novices) there’s gonna be a novice swim test, and we tell the women that if they dress up really crazy … then one person won’t have to do the novice swim test. Then when we get there, we say, ‘You have to do a swim test to make sure that you can swim if the boat flips (but) if you win this race, then you won’t have to do your swim test until we get back to Columbus,’” Martini said. “And then, so this year we picked (winners) and then we went down, and they have to run 25 yards and then they crab walk another 25 yards. And then once they’re done with that, there is no swim test.”

Varsity members are those who have rowed at a collegiate level for more than a year, while novice members include those members participating in their first year of college-level rowing. There are 24 varsity members listed on the club’s roster.

After that, tradition calls for the gifting of the underwear and T-shirts, Martini said.

“We give the novice their underwear and shirts and they wear them to practice. So like, with the women we give them their underwear, we explain why, you know, why we wrote this for this girl or whatever and then we give them a hug and we give them their underwear they get back. The underwear are always a really cool thing. I still have mine,” Martini said.

The men on the team also shave their heads together during the week.

“The most intensive thing, I guess, that we do is the men have head-shavings. So they say, ‘If you don’t want to get your head shaved, you don’t have to, but you can’t shave people’s heads next year,’” Martini said. “And then later in the week … The novices present their novice skits and kind of make fun of us in the same way, and then seniors tell stories of their career.”

The approximately 20 varsity club members who were on the spring break trip are facing individual academic probation sentences on top of the club’s suspension, Martini said in an email.

“As individuals, we have, there’s a range of punishments that we can get, from formal reprimand to probation, suspension and dismissal from the university. We were told by the interim director of Student Conduct (Brian Tomlinson) that he would be very surprised if he saw any dismissals, but suspension is not off the table, and when we got our charge sheets, formal reprimand was not an option for our punishments,” Martini said on April 19, before the club’s or individuals’ sentences had been issued.

Tomlinson referred The Lantern to Isaacs for comment.

The Student Code of Conduct defines hazing as “doing, requiring or encouraging any act, whether or not the act is voluntarily agreed upon, in conjunction with initiation or continued membership or participation in any group, that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm or humiliation. Such acts may include, but are not limited to, use of alcohol, creation of excessive fatigue, and paddling, punching or kicking in any form.”

Martini said that it was a novice team member who reported the club for hazing, and added in an email that he “has been very open to other people about the fact that he reported us for hazing.”

OSU crew club’s faculty adviser did not provide comment on the situation. The team president and coach and the novice member who allegedly reported the club for hazing all did not respond to emails requesting comment. Calls to the president and coach were not immediately returned Monday.

Isaacs said that the crew club’s president is in charge of filing an appeal by Tuesday if the team wants to take that course of action.

“If there is an appeal filed, the vice president for Student Life (Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston) will make the final decision on whether or not to uphold the sanctions. In this instance, the group has admitted responsibility, so the only grounds for appeal would be if the organization feels the sanctions are grossly disproportionate to the violation committed,” Isaacs said. “There is not a set time table for the appeal to be processed, but (Adams-Gaston) will conduct a review of all information relevant to the appeal.”

Martini said that the team did not see the hazing charges coming.

“It didn’t even cross our mind that these things could be considered hazing. We were very careful, especially this year, because we had someone who said that if we forced them to do it then they would call us for hazing, and so we were like, ‘That’s fine, it’s not mandatory anyway, it doesn’t matter.’ And so this year especially, if we heard anyone say, you know, ‘You have to do that,’ we were very clear to say, ‘No, you don’t have to do that,’” Martini said. “We were never trying to hide it from our faculty adviser, never trying to hide it from our coaches. Our coaches all knew about it.

“We understand now, having been sanctioned and seeing the university definition, we can see how it could be construed as hazing, but there was never any malicious intent about it.”

The team will be the third OSU organization suspended due to hazing this year if the suspension holds. Delta Sigma Theta sorority is suspended through August 2016 and Zeta Phi Beta sorority has been suspended through January 2015.

Several other OSU Greek Life organizations have also been recently investigated for possible Student Code of Conduct violations. Sigma Chi fraternity and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority are on disciplinary probation through May 2015 for hazing-related violations. Sigma Pi fraternity is under disciplinary probation through May 2014 for hazing-related violations. Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity is under interim suspension.

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