On March 13, The Globe & Mail published an article detailing a hazing incident that occurred in September 2015 involving McGill’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. The piece, based on the testimony of an anonymous member of the Redmen basketball team, alleged that first-year players were forced to drink various alcoholic drinks, and then “ordered into sexual games with semi-nude female athletes.” News of this most recent incident comes more than 10 years after McGill adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy toward hazing after a widely-publicized 2005 case involving the Redmen football team.
This latest hazing incident reveals the problems inherent in McGill’s current hazing policy, and the need for McGill to develop a better procedure for responding to and addressing instances of hazing.
First, the administration demonstrated an unacceptable delay in its response to the incident. The university received word of the hazing during the 2015-2016 season, which ended in March, yet McGill didn’t form an ad-hoc committee to investigate the violation of the Varsity Code until August 2016. By the time the committee released its report in December 2016, it noted that team-wide sanctions were not appropriate since many of the players involved had already graduated. If McGill wants to hold athletes accountable for hazing—regardless of what sanctions it decides on—it needs to respond more quickly in order to reach its decision while those athletes are still on the team.
Additionally, McGill’s response to the 2015 incident suggests that the university is no longer following the strict anti-hazing policy it outlined in 2005, as those procedures were not fully implemented in this case. After the 2005 hazing, McGill stated, as part of its “zero-tolerance” policy, that any team engaged in hazing would automatically be suspended for the season. However, McGill did not suspend the basketball teams implicated in this incident. Instead it placed the Redmen on probation two seasons and the Martlets for one, and suspended one player from the men’s team for one game—a clear departure from the zero-tolerance policy. While on probation, a second offence by the team would result in its suspension. The administration also specified in its report that it was imposing sanctions that “revolve around education, awareness, and prevention,” like having both teams attend a “Safer Partying” workshop to learn about the risks of hazing.
McGill’s move from a zero-tolerance to an education-centred policy has the potential to be a more effective way to address the problem. Punishment without prevention is unlikely to lead to progress, and the policy of automatic suspension may discourage athletes who have been hazed from coming forward, as they may worry that in seeking help they are hurting themselves and their teammates by bringing down a suspension on their whole team.
Regardless of the benefits, having one policy in theory and another one in practice makes the university’s stance appear to be contradictory. Either McGill has a policy of zero-tolerance and automatic suspension or it does not. This needs to be made clear as athletes, coaches, parents, and members of the McGill community look to the university for a clear outline of how it plans to deal with hazing. The way the administration handled this most recent incident suggests that it is aware of the flaws of its 2005 policy. If so, it needs to make this clear while crafting a new policy.
Hazing is a serious issue, and McGill needs to ensure that its policy addresses hazing in an effective, supportive, and flexible manner in order to reduce the harm hazing can cause. Hazing is an issue both rooted in and normalized by the culture of university-level athletics; as such, it requires a response that is focused on education, awareness, and prevention, rather than relying solely on punitive measures. The policy should not mandate automatic sanctions and respect the wishes of athletes who come forward so that mechanisms of recourse do not discourage athletes from reporting instances of hazing. Finally, the university must conduct the re-examination of its hazing policy in a proactive and transparent manner—McGill should show initiative in addressing this issue rather than waiting for another report like that of The Globe & Mail to prod it into action.