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Swimmer Speaks Out About Hazing Scandal and Season Cancellation

Katrina Sommer thought she found a community when she committed to the Boston College swim and dive program for her fifth year of eligibility. That is, until her swim career was effectively canceled in an eight-minute meeting with Athletics Director Blake James, she said.

“I was just beyond shocked I think,” Sommer, WCAS ’24, said. “I have a lot of respect for the AD, and I have a lot of respect for ADs in general, but I think that really shook my respect for Boston because I just have never experienced anything like that.”

Sommer transferred to BC last summer as a fifth-year graduate student, after spending her first four seasons at UCLA. She came to Chestnut Hill ready to compete at the ACC Swimming and Diving Championships and break team records, she said.

But on Sept. 20, University administrators placed the men’s and women’s swimming and diving program on indefinite suspension after allegations of hazing surfaced.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m a graduate student or I wasn’t knowledgeable enough, but I just didn’t experience anything personally that I thought was hazing,” Sommer said.

Sommer recently became the first member of the swim and dive program to speak publicly about the hazing scandal in a Boston Globe article, detailing the investigation of the program and expressing frustration with BC Athletics. 

“I think the real issue was that we were dragged on for months without a lot of communication,” Sommer said. “A lot of parents reached out, I reached out. We tried to make things work. We tried to figure out what was happening. So I was just very sad with the lack of transparency.”

According to Sommer, she and many of her teammates were brought into the hazing allegations without proof of their involvement.

“I was roped in without any proof, or with the only association being my name on the roster, along with a lot of other people,” Sommer said.

In a statement to The Heights, University Spokesman Jack Dunn said BC took an appropriate stand against hazing and student misconduct with their decision.

“The University took a strong and appropriate stand against hazing and a team culture of student misconduct, and is unaffected by team members who feel entitled to a different outcome,” Dunn wrote to The Heights.

One mother of a swim and dive program member, who wished to remain anonymous, said her son and several other junior boys from the team were suspended on Sept. 11 without further information.

“My son called me and he said, ‘Mom, all of us at [Kirkwood Rd.], all the junior boys just got suspended,’” she said. “‘And I don’t know why—we have no idea. They just brought us into the office and said we’re suspended from swim. We didn’t do anything. We don’t know what happened. We really have no clue what’s going on.’”

A few days later, her son and his fellow team members discovered their suspension was related to hazing allegations, the mother said.

“A couple days later, he says, ‘They’re accusing us of hazing,’” she said. “‘We haven’t done any hazing. We don’t know what they’re talking about.’”

The mother also said her son and his teammates were constantly taunted on campus and social media.

“On Herrd, they were brutal, absolutely brutal,” she said. “They’ve been through the trenches together.”

Sommer said she and another member of the swim and dive program met with James before Winter Break, hoping to receive clarity about the immediate future of the program. 

But Sommer said she was unable to make headway with James during the meeting.

“I understand he’s a busy person and he’s doing his best,” Sommer said. “But in the meeting, I think it was just very circular arguments where he was like, ‘Oh, it’s team culture,’ but I was like, ‘Well the punishment’s been given. So it’s like, I’m a victim, I’m innocent, the people who are the victims—who are innocent—should be cleared.’ And he was like, ‘Well, you’re a part of the issue.’”

According to Sommer, she was willing to have a dialogue with James about creating a hazing education program, but he shut her and her teammate down.

“I came to him, and I said, ‘You know, how can we work on this together to create a solution. Like, hazing’s the issue, you claim, but there are no programs for hazing.’”

Dunn said the University encourages everyone to recognize the seriousness of hazing.

“All of us must play a role in eradicating hazing from college sports,” Dunn wrote to The Heights. “Boston College, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Diane Freniere, and the BC students, parents, and alumni who have spoken out against the team’s culture have done their part. We welcome those who have refused to recognize the seriousness of this issue to do theirs.” 

During Winter Break, Sommer and several of her teammates went to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado to prepare for their upcoming season. On Jan. 4, however, the team received an email informing them that their suspension had been extended through August. 

“To be at this swim camp where I’m training for a season, and then to have that season so ripped away from me over an email, I was just very emotional about that,” Sommer said.

Sommer said she and her teammates were trying to push through the suspension with the hopes of being able to compete in the spring, but their momentum felt like it “disappeared overnight.”

“There was an ethos of like, this is a punishment, but then, at the end of it, it’s going to be worth it, we’re gonna be able to play together as a team,” Sommer said. “So I think it was just a very hard experience. But I know in the world there’s harder things people experience, so I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining.”

Dunn said BC’s actions resulted from a thorough investigation into the program. 

“The individual and team sanctions that Boston College issued to the swimming and diving program resulted from an extensive investigation that included interviews with student-athletes, coaches, and staff, and conduct hearings through the Office of the Dean of Students,” Dunn wrote in an email to The Heights.

Sommer said that while it was difficult to receive news that her swim career was over, she was able to get through it with the help of her teammates, who fostered a strong team culture. 

Regardless, she said she felt bad for others who lost their seasons as well.

“I really felt for the seniors and for the freshmen and for the juniors, and anyone else who had their season taken away,” Sommer said.

On the same day news broke of the swim and dive program’s suspension through August, BC announced that head coach Joe Brinkman and the team’s coaching staff were no longer with the program. Sommer said she was saddened by this because she committed to BC for the coaches, whom she knew better than the team at the time.

“I believe to the very depths of my soul that they’re wonderful coaches,” Sommer said. “And from my knowledge, I didn’t think they had any involvement with any of the allegations or knew anything.”

Sommer emphasized that she still loves Boston and the members of the BC community who have shown her kindness during the hazing allegations. She said she hopes to encourage other student-athletes to stand up for what they believe in.

“You can be brave and you can speak out about things you really care about,” Sommer said. “Hopefully, good things can come from that, but things won’t go perfectly in your college experience, and so we sort of have to make the best of those situations.”

February 14, 2024