NEW YORK — Cornell University suspended its men’s lacrosse program for the semester following an alcohol-related hazing incident, two years after the death of a sophomore led the school to ban all forms of hazing.
“It’s a teamwide penalty for a teamwide incident,” John Carberry, a spokesman for the Ithaca, N.Y.-based school, said in a telephone interview. “It involved coerced alcohol consumption by underage freshmen.”
More than half of all U.S. college students in clubs, teams and other organizations are hazed, according to a University of Maine study. Hazing was responsible for the 2011 deaths of Robert Champion, a Florida A&M University student beaten by fellow band members, and George Desdunes, a Cornell fraternity member who died after being bound with duct tape and forced to drink alcohol. Desdunes’ death prompted Cornell President David Skorton to vow to “end hazing as we know it.”
Cornell’s lacrosse suspensions began Sept. 13 and include its fall schedule and exhibition games. The players are allowed to practice during the ban. Last year’s intercollegiate season started in February, with the first Ivy League game in March. Cornell’s Big Red is a 26-time Ivy League champion and won three national championships in the 1970s.
The incident is being probed by Cornell’s police, and the Ithaca Police Department isn’t investigating, said Officer Jamie Williamson, a spokesman for the city department. Cornell gave no further details of the hazing.
Kent State University in Ohio canceled its 1998-1999 hockey season after a hazing incident in which some freshman team members were hospitalized for reactions to alcohol, according to Hank Nuwer, a journalism professor at Franklin College in Franklin, Ind., who studies hazing. In 2000, University of Vermont canceled a portion of its hockey season because of alcohol-related hazing allegations.
According to the UMaine work, “alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation, and sex acts are hazing practices common across student groups.”
Rob Pannell, who spent 2008-2013 at Cornell, winning last season’s Tewaaraton award as player of the year, said he never saw any hazing during his time with the program, adding that Coach Ben DeLuca and the players don’t condone the practice.
“I’m having trouble believing that any hazing took place,” Pannell said by phone. “In my five-plus years as a member of the Cornell lacrosse family, I can confidently say that no hazing took place. We’re a program many teams on campus strive to be like.”
He said the light punishment is probably in line with the severity of the alleged incident.
Cornell was the site of the first known fraternity hazing death in 1873, Nuwer said. Mortimer Leggett was walking blindfolded with other fraternity pledges when he fell to his death.
“Cornell has a long history of fraternities and hazing- related deaths,” he said. “It gets into the system, and they’re trying to get it out.”
Since Desdunes’s death, Cornell has suspended at least four fraternities for hazing and banned pledging. The university encourages anonymous reporting of hazing and maintains a website that details incidents on campus.
“Hazing practices are harmful and antithetical to our values as a university and our commitment to student athletes,” Andy Noel, Cornell’s athletic director, said in a statement. “They have no place in Cornell University athletics. I am particularly concerned with coercive traditions that abuse the power differential between new students and upperclassmen.”
Hazing has public aspects, UMaine says, with 25 percent of coaches or organization advisors aware of a group’s hazing behaviors; 25 percent of the behaviors occurring on campus in a public space; in 25 percent of hazing experiences, alumni were present; and students talk with peers or family (26 percent) about their hazing experiences.