Image courtesy of Nova Scotia's The Chronicle Herald.

Zero tolerance can be a confusing concept. In its most common usage, the idea represents a complete lack of tolerance for intolerance, which is a bit like agreeing with someone who claims you disagree with everything they say. This isn’t the only contradiction that the phrase offers. The foundation of a zero tolerance policy seems to contain a tacit admission that nuance exists in whatever issue it governs, but that the complications surrounding the matter are too multifarious to navigate on an individual basis.

Last week, Dalhousie University suspended 19 of the 24 members of its women’s hockey team, effectively forfeiting their current season. This was the result of a six week investigation into a hazing incident that had allegedly occurred in October. In an interview with CTV Atlantic, university spokesman Charles Crosby explained, “We have zero tolerance when it comes to hazing and intimidation at [Dalhousie].” He continued, “When something like this comes to light we are going to take action.”

That seems like a reasonable response. A questionable event occurred, the university investigated the matter, and then based on its findings, took what it believed to be an appropriate action epithetical to its policies. The action may seem harsh, especially to players in their senior year whose varsity hockey careers have been finished prematurely, but the revelation of recent hazing incidents in other North American universities have resulted in similar fates for perpetrators, all in the name of zero tolerance for hazing rituals.

These guidelines were called into question earlier this week when an anonymous member of the team spoke with The Dalhousie Gazette. She likened the so-called hazing, which included alcohol, embarrassing attire and personal questions, to something that might occur at “any other university party.” This of course assumes that the post secondary education of choice isn’t a focused degree in German brothel management.

In an email exchange with Mr. Crosby, the Dalhousie representative reiterated the university’s policies, and avoided specifics about the results of the investigation for privacy reasons. However, he did reveal that what happened at the party in question was “certainly not what most would classify as what would ‘occur at any other university party.’”

He also contradicted the anonymous student athlete’s claims that confidentiality agreements were sprung upon the team during the investigation, saying that “the agreement was developed between student services and the members of the team; the language was mutually agreed upon during a workshop.” Crosby added that any team member who asked for a copy of the behavioral contract was supplied with one.

The different versions of events being expressed here almost do a good enough job of justifying a no tolerance policy on its own. It’s certainly not ideal, but if the cost of dissuading future incidents of hazing – the dangers on which we can hopefully all agree – is overreacting to isolated incidents, it seems to be a price worth paying.

The part that’s bothersome is that the possibility exists for student athletes to be held to a higher standard and host greater accountability than regular students in yet another aspect of their college life. I’m not suggesting that this is what happened in Halifax. If anything, I’d be willing to defend the university’s measured actions. However, the right to make dim-witted decisions in one’s youth and act recklessly at the expense of one’s own self is something deserving of protection.

There’s a difference between drinking to excess and engaging in behavior that degrades others, and it’s a variation that differs between detrimental action and possibly healthy convention. Put simply, it’s unfair that a party involving student athletes should come under more scrutiny than a party merely involving students.

In examining this issue further, I’m left wondering what recourse a female hockey player who feels wronged might have. A powerless student union? Costly lawyers whose impact wouldn’t be felt until it was too late? Confessions to a student newspaper reporter? It’s an unfair situation in terms of checks and balances, and in order to rationalize it, we have to believe that avoiding the harms of hazing is worth punishing innocents.

That may very well be the case, but informing the wrongly reprimanded of such an imperfect principle is not a task for which I’d volunteer. It’s all very reminiscent of the famous quote from Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.” It’s quite likely that zero tolerance is the worst policy for dealing with hazing, except for any other that has been tried so far.

Comments (14)

  1. I wonder if a higher grossing sports program would have 80% of its athletes suspended for hazing, or even if it was the male equivalent program.
    /devil’s advocate

  2. pro sports still publicly “haze” their rookies. for example, in MLB, it is common for teams to have their rookies dress as women, or other costumes, and wear them to the bus on a road trip so all the media can take pictures. the texas rangers had their rookies dress as women and sing “i feel like a woman” by shania twain. in the NBA – the Toronto raptors have their rookies wear children’s backpacks (hello kitty etc) for all the media to see. and while these public hazings certainly seem harmless and for the most part are intended to be silly and fun what sort of example does it continue to set for high schools and colleges who try to do “innocent” hazings as well and then get hit by a book designed to protect rookies from eating poop and other very terrible things. I’m not saying that’s what happened in halifax because I don’t know the details of what happened there.
    Do we say the pros have an obligation to stop hazing as well? Is it a social obligation?

  3. It is impossible to fully comment without knowing exactly what happened, but if it really was only alcohol and some embarrassing questions and outfits then whoever ‘tattled’ should be ashamed. I was a university athlete for 4 years. I was ‘hazed’ with methods like that when I was a rookie and I hazed others at the beginning of my other 3 years. It was a team-building process. The lockeroom absolutely got closer each year after the initial rookie hazing.

    The rookies felt like a bigger part of the team and the veterans respected the rookies ability to be a good sport and trust that the veterans had no intentions of harming them.

    The morons who go too far(or way beyond that) are ruining what I believe to be an important part of competitive sports for the rest of us. Hazing of any kind is looked down upon as though it is all terrible acts with malicious intentions.

  4. Further update came today as the team released a statement, as well as went on the record:

    http://dalgazette.com/sports/dals-womens-hockey-team-speaks-out/

    Includes a statement from the team, as well as a letter to the President.

  5. “Put simply, it’s unfair that a party involving student athletes should come under more scrutiny than a party merely involving students.”

    Disagree here completely.

    Becoming a student athlete means that you are becoming a much more public representative of the school than the average student athlete. “Hey aren’t you So-and-so, who plays hockey at Dal?” Becomes a much more likely event than “hey aren’t you so-and-so, 2nd year social sciences student at dal?”. Your name gets printed in the local paper. Maybe your picture. If the sport/program is big enough, you may get on TV.

    I played University sport in Canada, and can tell you. From Day 1 our coaches made us very aware we were much more visible than the average student, and to act accordingly.

    This is a choice every student athlete makes, and makes knowingly, and because of the more public relationship they have as a representative of theschool, they should be held to a higher standard.

  6. Dustin, what did you think of the letter attached in the above comment?

    • It’s probably their best course of action. It’s not how I would’ve presented the argument, but I like the vague lawsuit threat in the final paragraph.

  7. Even if you think student athletes need to be held to a higher standard, some of what’s being described isn’t that far off from a team building exercise you might find at a corporate retreat. The point remains that those type of things shouldn’t be punishable, but are in a zero tolerance setting merely because it’s a sports team doing it.

  8. I mean, let’s say the U brass meets the team in private, never goes public with this shit and tells them that what went on is not acceptable and they won’t tolerate it for the next years. They warn everyone that next time they hear about something similar, people will be suspended etc. What happens then? Hazing stops, the same result as they’ll get by going public with it. I think they could use some kind of gradation of the sanctions. I don’t think this is the same type of craziness that went on at McGill where one player was sodomized by “Mr. Broom”. This type of shit could mean lawsuits and a lot of trouble for the university. Eating sardines, peppers and drinking shots is not THAT heavy in my mind.

    • Let’s get our facts straight. It was Dr. Broom.

      The university is damned if they do, damned if they don’t. If they do go public with what happened and suspend players, they face lawsuit from women saying it wasn’t that bad, that the whole thing is being overblown. If they don’t go public and merely warn players, they risk lawsuit from families of rookies who were the ones that complained in the first place. Going back to the article, this is why zero tolerance is the best and the worst policy. We all believe hazing to be wrong, but the impact of degrading actions are incredibly difficult to measure.

      • Oh. It was Mr. Broom. Sorry I didn’t get it right. Then, it’s not the same.

      • “We all believe hazing to be wrong, but the impact of degrading actions are incredibly difficult to measure.”

        What?

        What can you possibly mean by this?

        http://www.umich.edu/~nohazing/consequence.html

        Let’s start there?

        “While death is a horrendous possible outcome, there are far more examples of less severe but still life altering consequences. One study has shown that 71% of those who are hazed suffer from negative consequences. These consequences may include:

        Physical, emotional, and/or mental instability
        Sleep deprivation
        Loss of sense of control and empowerment
        Decline in grades and coursework
        Relationships with friends, significant others, and family suffer
        Post-traumatic stress syndrome
        Loss of respect for and interest in being part of the organization
        Erosion of trust within the group members
        Illness or hospitalization with additional effects on family and friends”

        I mean, really….

  9. The last four paragraphs of this piece are the best take I’ve read on this subject.

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