Lawyers representing more than 30 members of Boston College men’s and women’s swimming and diving sent a letter to BC’s general counsel on Thursday, calling on the University to lift the team’s suspension and issue a public retraction of the statement issued by BC Athletics on Wednesday.
“It is apparent that this matter has been grossly mishandled by the Athletics Department, particularly in light of the letter issued by the Office of the Dean of Students yesterday evening,” reads the letter from Nesenoff & Miltenberg, LLP, which specializes in campus disciplinary defense.
In an email to The Heights on Friday, Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn said BC Athletics has the right to suspend a program following “credible allegations of hazing.”
“Given the serious nature of these allegations, the suspension will remain in effect while the matter is investigated by the Office of the Dean of Students,” Dunn said.
The statement BC Athletics issued on Wednesday, Sept. 20 said “University administrators determined that hazing occurred within the program.” According to a letter from an administrator in the Office of the Dean of Students, students at a freshman event were allegedly forced to binge drink and consume their own vomit.
BC Athletics clarified its original statement on Thursday, Sept. 21.
“Consistent with University policy, the matter will be investigated by the Office of the Dean of Students and adjudicated fairly and impartially through the student conduct process,” BC Athletics’ second statement said. “Once the investigation and adjudication process is complete, Athletics will reassess the status of the teams.”
The lawyers said BC’s initial statement is false, adding that the University has yet to complete any investigation into hazing allegations against the program.
The letter then states BC Athletics failed to notify the student-athletes or their parents that the University’s Sept. 20 statement would be released, which the lawyers assert included information that is false, defamatory, and prejudicial to the entire program.
“Neither the subsequent addition to the Statement of a single sentence referencing a fair and impartial adjudication, nor the letter issued by the Dean of Students office [on Wednesday] evening are sufficient to undo the harm already caused, and the substantial additional harm that will be caused, to the members of the Swimming and Diving team,” the letter reads.
The lawyers argue that after BC released its original statement, the reputations of the student-athletes on the team were permanently tainted.
“[The students] have been subjected to questions, jeering and hurtful remarks by their peers, have been the subject of hateful social media postings, have been pursued by local and national media outlets seeking comment,” the letter reads.
According to the letter, program members are afraid to wear their swimming and diving apparel around campus due to fear of retaliation, and they have been mistreated by others on campus and subjected to public embarrassment. Program members have become concerned for their safety and well-being, preventing them from focusing on academics and training, according to the lawyers.
“Indisputably, the issuance of this Statement by the Athletics Department has created and fostered a hostile environment for each of these students,” the letter reads. “Should the College fail to retract the Statement and undertake other steps to mitigate the damage, these adverse effects will only continue to perpetuate.”
BC’s Student Code of Conduct states that administrative action is only appropriate when the dean of students determines a student is threatening the health, safety, or well-being of the University community, threatening the functioning of the University, or if a student has been charged with a criminal offense, according to the letter.
“There has been no indication that the Dean of Students has made such an assessment, nor is there any information suggesting that these criteria have been established,” the letter reads.
The lawyers hope to facilitate a mutually agreeable path forward between the program and the University, the letter states.