Author: Anthony Adragna
College administrators suspended the Stuck in the Middle (SIM) a cappella group for the rest of semester after finding the group committed hazing violations.
Allegations of the hazing incident came to the attention of the College during the first week of March, Dean of the College Tim Spears said. The hazing occurred during the final week of February when SIM was inducting new members into their ranks.
Word of the hazing came from a source outside of the College, Spears said.
“The College received a phone call from a person off campus who was concerned that hazing might be occurring,” Spears said. “This call came into Public Safety. They then followed up with interviews with members of SIM.”
In the complaint, the caller voiced concern over activities SIM held for new members.
“The reporting party raised concerns about activities that a person joining a student organization participated in as part of an induction process,” Assistant Director of Public Safety Dan Gaiotti said.
Director of the Center of Campus Activities and Learning (CCAL) Doug Adams said administrators agreed on a punishment following an exhaustive interview process.
“The group has been suspended for the rest of this term and we’ve asked the current leadership to step down,” Adams said. “The group can re-form starting next fall. CCAL worked in concert with the Dean of the College’s Office and determined the length of the punishment given the situation.”
Spears said the group was helpful during the investigation of the hazing allegations.
“I want to add that in these interviews membership was very cooperative with the Public Safety investigation,” he said.
Members of SIM declined to comment about the incident.
Although alcohol is often present in hazing activities, it was not the cause of the investigation in SIM’s case.
“Often alcohol is involved in hazing incidents,” Associate Dean of the College Gus Jordan said. “In this particular situation it wasn’t the use of alcohol that brought the activities to our attention.”
While declining to give specifics of the hazing, Jordan acknowledged it did not pose any immediate danger to participants.
“In the range of possible ways in which a group might engage in hazing, it was pretty clear to us that this particular group was at the lower end of this spectrum,” Jordan said. “It wasn’t our feeling that the individuals were in any kind of danger.”
Adams cautioned that the administration took its responsibility to enforce anti-hazing policies strictly, given that a situation could become serious rapidly.
“If this type of behavior happens, we want to know about it,” he said. “The worst-case scenario is too easy to get to. It’s a slippery slope that’s very fast. Joining a student group should be about mutual respect.”
Jordan said hazing occurs the moment group leaders do not participate in an activity with new members.
“The moment there’s that kind of distinction between what the leadership or group members and what the new members are doing we’re in the category of hazing,” he said.
The College Handbook also states “conduct is still hazing even if the person against whom the hazing was directed consented to or acquiesced in the hazing activity.”
Members of the College community have different views about the prevalence of hazing throughout student groups. Director of Health and Wellness Jyoti Daniere feels the College has hazing concerns, but that new programming about hazing would come to campus next fall.
“I believe there is a problem with hazing at Middlebury as there is on many campuses across the country,” she said. “When the Gordie Foundation came to campus in March, their documentary ‘Haze’ looked at this problem. We plan on inviting the Gordie Foundation back next year to meet with student leaders to explore of ending this kind of practice on our campus. Doug Adams and I are hoping to do some specific programming in the fall around hazing as well.”
Adams said that hazing remains a problem nationally, but that the College has attempted to combat the practice.
“Hazing is an issue on college campuses,” he said. “We have specific policies at Middlebury College and Vermont has laws prohibiting hazing. We take it very seriously. In becoming a student organization, groups say they will obey those rules.”
Spears did not speculate about the prevalence of hazing in the College community.
“One of the response that you do hear from students is that ‘we’re not the only ones who do this,’” he said. “The degree to which that is true is something that students more than administrators will be able to answer.”
Student Government Association President Max Nardini believes that hazing is not a normal occurrence on campus.
“Obviously hazing is a big deal, though I’m not sure how big of an issue it is on campus in general,” he said. “This incident is definitely concerning, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it represents the ‘norm.’”
Even if hazing is not a frequent practice on campus, Daniere said the psychological effects can be devastating to victims.
“I think one of the most important points to make is that hazing is less about initiation and more about intimidation and emotional abuse,” she said. “Both the perpetrators and victims of hazing are damaged by the process. Psychological torment and coercion are at the core of many hazing practices and the student leaders involved with these events need to question why they would want to inflict emotional damage on another human being. Another part of the problem is that in the process of hazing the pledges or initiates are objectified and rendered less human, and that allows the perpetrators to feel justified in their actions towards them.”
Adams hopes SIM will ultimately prosper when they return as an organization next year.
“I will meet with the student organization to answer any questions they have,” he said. “Hopefully they will work through this and improve out of it. We hope SIM can improve and return as an organization united in their love of singing.”
SIM is one of the newest a cappella groups on campus. Formed in 2002, the all-male group has prospered in recent years. The group celebrated their new CD release at a St. Patrick’s Day party.