In 2014, members of the Castleton University men’s rugby team faced the harsh realization that a year-and-a-half suspension from their favorite sport was upon them.
It was a fitting punishment for a hazing incident that was brought to light during an Effective Speaking speech presented in class by one of the freshman players on the team that year.
Now, almost two years later, team members say they have learned their lesson and plan on making this season as positive and rewarding as they can.
Aaron Clark, president and captain of this year’s team, has very high hopes for the future of the program.
“We are changing the whole dynamic of the club!” Clark said excitedly. “Not only are we hanging out as a group and doing things that are not substance related, but we are now practicing every single day.”
According to a national study on hazing, researched by the National Academy Foundation, more than half of college students (55 percent) who are involved in clubs, teams and organizations have experienced hazing. An even more jaw-clenching statistic is that nine out of 10 students who do experience hazing do not even consider themselves to have been hazed.
It raises the question, should someone be punished for participating in something they chose to do?
The official definition for hazing, provided by the government funded website stophazing.org, states it is any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them regardless of their willingness to participate.
Dan Beauregard, captain of the team during the hazing incident, commented on how expectations were taken too far, but there was never any intention to hurt anybody.
“The idea of having fun just got taken out of hand,” he said.
An alumni player, Matthew Caiazzo, was among a group of players who were seniors at Castleton when the team got suspended.
“My initial reaction was pure shock,” Caiazzo said passionately. “To me, college was hazing in general. You need to step outside of your comfort zone to meet some of the best people around.”
Caiazzo played rugby his whole time at Castleton and explained that there is more to the sport than what people have made it out to be.
“I hope that the same family atmosphere stays intact because that’s where a lot of members of the team built long-lasting friendships and strong time management between classes, homework, friendships and the time commitment that comes with playing a sport. It is just like any other varsity team,” he said.
Incidents of hazing can be found all over the country and can range from varsity sports to a school’s honor society, however the Castleton men’s rugby team is now looking for new ways to break out of that stereotype and focus their energy on positive ways to build teamwork and trust.
In the past, most hazing has been directed at new members who join a team or club or fraternity.
Clark explained how that is not the case for his team.
“They are players on our team, there is no difference between someone who has been here longer than someone who just started. You show up to practice and work hard. I don’t care if you’ve been playing for eight years, one year or two days. You’re a rugby player. We are a rugby team. That’s it.”
Regarding changing past traditions, the men’s rugby team is now teaming up with the women’s team in search of local community service projects to volunteer at as a team.
Captain and coach of the women’s rugby team, Kathleen Thompson, talked about what exactly they are doing to stay focused on healthy group activities.
“We added not only a fund-raising officer, but a philanthropic officer as well!” Thompson reported with a huge smile across her face. “We’ve teamed up to do a bunch of community service projects as a huge club team and plan on cleaning up the Chittenden Dam. We care a lot about the boys’ team and it is also good for the women’s team to get involved as well. It is also good for us because it makes us an even tighter knit family, which is what rugby is really all about,” she said.
Jordan Hill was voted as philanthropic officer of the team and has been working endlessly for both the men and women’s team to get involved in a handful of community service projects.
“I think that the community service is going to help us get away from the stigma that the hazing incident has created for the Castleton rugby teams,” Hill continued, “as well as divert any attempt or intention of hazing in the future through the hard work we are putting in to better the name of the Castleton rugby club as well as the name of Castleton University.”