Middlebury College has abruptly suspended for the rest of the season all of its female swimming and dive team members except for the freshmen in a tough response to the latest report of hazing on the Vermont college's campus.
Members of the men's swim team received a letter of reprimand and their parents were notified.
The strict response follows a Feb. 2 incident at the college located in rustic Middlebury, Vt.
Little is known about what happened in early February at a swim team party. The event was designed to welcome first-year swimmers onto the team, but the school newspaper the Middlebury Campus reported that the party "crossed the line from innocent initiation to hazing."
This isn't the first time the Middlebury swim teams have faced tough punishment for hazing. In 2006, the men's season was canceled due to a hazing incident that involved alcohol. In 2003, the women's team missed two meets for hazing related offenses.
Middlebury College is located in Vermont, which has a very tough anti-hazing law, but the incident was not reported to police.
On College Confidential, a website that calls itself the "leading college-bound community on the Web," dozens of people posted their reactions. A member going by the name of Sailfish wrote, "Heard about it today from S who swims for another NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Championship) school and says it's the talk of the NESCAC swim world. Sounds like a pretty serious hazing incident primarily involving the women's team… since the men's team was suspended in 2006 and the message doesn't seem to have gotten through, it might be hard not to treat it seriously."
One mom wrote, "My son is one of their top recruits for regular decision - we are VERY concerned about this - is there an atmosphere with the kids that hazing is OK? He was there for a recruit weekend and LOVED everything, but now is concerned."
Middlebury College took its disciplinary action quietly and did not announce it. The suspensions were first noticed by the college newspaper of Bowdoin College which wrote a story about the lack of swimmers for an inter college swim meet.
Middlebury College subsequently released a statement by Dean Shirley Collado that reads in part: "The violations took place during activities involving both teams on Feb. 2…As of Feb. 7, the college's Department of Public Safety had interviewed more than 30 students. On Feb. 8, college administrators determined that the women's swim team, with the exception of the first-year students, will not compete for the remainder of the season. Both the men's and women's teams will be on probation next year. Middlebury College has a zero tolerance policy for hazing and harassment, and takes all possible conduct violations very seriously."
Middlebury College's handbook states that a "student group may be found culpable upon satisfactory evidence that the organization did not discourage or did not take reasonable steps to prevent hazing by its members or affiliates."
Many colleges like Middlebury have strong language against hazing in their handbooks, but that hasn't stopped incidents of hazing from proliferating at colleges and high schools across the country.
At Middlebury, college officials now say they are focused on preventing future incidents.