Posted April 19, 2017
After a long and at times difficult investigation by the Student Conduct & Community Standards office at UW-River Falls, both the men’s and women’s rugby teams have been suspended for the next several years.
Under the suspension, the men’s team will be banned from participation for the next four years while the women’s team received a slightly shorter penalty of three years. Both teams are sport clubs overseen by UWRF Campus Recreation. Appeals of the suspensions were denied on April 13.
The investigation stemmed from a hazing complaint received by Student Conduct & Community Standards in November. The complaint was made by an anonymous member of one of the teams at UWRF.
Steve Stocker, UWRF’s director of Recreation and Sport Facilities, said the news was shocking.
“I’ve been here for 21 years and I’ve never seen anything of this magnitude before,” Stocker said.
The two rugby teams are among 10 sport clubs at UWRF that are funded through the campus recreation fee paid by students. For spring semester, the fee was $13.51 per student.
After receiving the complaint, the conduct and standards office launched an investigation that took place over several months and finally came to a conclusion just before spring break in mid-March.
“Some of the students were reluctant, mostly on the men’s side, to give us information at first,” Stocker said of the investigation.
Through their probing and questions, Student Conduct & Community Standards staff found that there were numerous violations of campus policies as well as illegal activity within both the men’s and women’s club rugby programs.
“Both teams were in violation of the state of Wisconsin’s statute on hazing,” Stocker said. Stocker said he isn’t allowed to share publicly what exactly was happening in terms of specific acts of hazing but did stress they were in violation of state law. Under Wisconsin law, “(n)o person may intentionally or recklessly engage in acts which endanger the physical health or safety of a student for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with any organization operating in connection with a school, college or university.”
A number of other campus and student organization violations occurred.
“They were serving alcohol to underage students along with misappropriation of funds,” Stocker said. The teams were using money they had raised on their own to buy alcohol, not funds from segregated fees, Stocker said.
“In the investigation report, it was cited numerous times that the men’s team was obstructive to the process and difficult to get a hold of for questioning,” Stocker said.
However, after a couple of long months of questioning and investigation, a couple members of the men’s team came forward with what actually was occurring at parties and other rugby events and that led to the rest of the team revealing information as well.
The disregard for compliance in the process was the main reason for the men’s rugby team receiving a longer suspension than the women’s team.
“The women’s team was remorseful as well,” Stocker said.
It seemed that there was a consensus among those involved in the investigation that the culture was so bad that both teams needed a new start, hence the long suspensions of both teams.
“I think we’re dealing with a poor culture problem. We need extended training for our clubs officers and for participants,” Stocker said. While some training about alcohol, bystander intervention and hazing is provided to sport club officers, Stocker said it should also be provided to team members.
Members of both teams were unable to be reached for comment. However, former president of the women’s rugby team Melanie Eck said she wouldn’t have enjoyed her time at UWRF as much if the opportunity to play rugby hadn’t been available to her.
“It’s sad news to hear,” Eck said. “Rugby is becoming a more popular sport in college and high schools with it now being in the Olympics and the rugby community is outstanding.”
Corrections and clarifications
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the rugby teams used university funds to purchase alcohol. The earlier version also incorrectly reported Steve Stocker’s title. The story also has been updated with clarification that the rugby teams’ appeals of their suspensions have been denied.