Published: February 25, 2016
The University’s men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams are under investigation amid allegations they violated the school’s hazing, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, and alcohol policies.
The suspension of the teams by Director of Athletics David Martin kept both teams out of the Landmark Conference Championship meet Feb. 12-14. The teams were notified of the allegations at a meeting Feb. 9 with Martin and nine other members of The University community, including coaches and administrators, team members said. The campus at large was notified of the suspension in an email sent by Anitra McShea, Ph.D., vice provost for student formation and campus life, on Feb. 17.
The investigation is ongoing and expected to “take several weeks,” according to McShea’s email. The events that led to the allegations have not been disclosed to The University community.
Senior co-captain Genevieve Cohen and junior team member Hanna Sandor said they do not know the specifics of the allegations, or who came forward with them.
“We’re all just sitting here waiting for the next thing to happen,” Sandor said. “As swimmers who are being accused in a very public way, we deserve to know more than the general community knows. At this point we know just as much as everybody else does.”
The senior team members received an email from head coach Paul DeAngelo the morning of Feb. 9 instructing them to organize the teams and be “on deck” at the pool in the Byron Recreation Complex at 4:30 p.m. to meet with Martin, Cohen said. The teams thought they were going to receive a sendoff for championships, for which they were preparing to leave on Feb. 11. What happened next was far from encouraging.
Martin and Associate Vice Provost for Student Formation and Campus Life and Dean of Students Lauren Rivera, J.D., M.Ed., explained to the teams that allegations had been made against them that they violated Title IX and The University’s hazing, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, and alcohol policies.
According to The University’s student code of conduct, violations of The University’s alcohol policy include but are not limited to “use, possession or consumption of alcohol by individuals who are under 21 years of age,” excessive consumption of alcohol, providing a location for minors to drink and providing alcohol to minors. The allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct fall under Title IX, which prohibits gender-based harassment and discrimination “under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” The University defines hazing as any club, organization or team activities that endanger or degrade another person.
The Aquinas contacted The University’s public relations department asking to speak with Rivera, Jennifer LaPorta, The Univerity’s Title IX coordinator and executive director of the office of equity and diversity, and Justine Johnson, the director of the cross cultural centers, about the policies the teams allegedly violated. Stan Zygmunt, director of news and media relations, referred The Aquinas to a statement from The University regarding the teams.
The statement appears on page 3.
Both Sandor and Cohen said they are confident the allegations were not made by a member of the teams.
“We weren’t informed in any way (about what events the allegations target) and certainly nobody knows who came forward with them,” Sandor said. “To this day I will never ever believe that it’s somebody on the team.”
After they were informed of the allegations, the swimmers were divided by grade and instructed to fill out a questionnaire pertaining to the investigation. The questionnaire asked about activities at team parties, including where members were and what they were doing Jan. 26, Cohen said.
After that, swimmers were interviewed individually by Martin and conduct officers. Some, including one swimmer with a heart condition, waited and were interviewed for three to four hours without food, water or a bathroom break, Cohen said.
At least one swimmer was threatened during the interview that if she did not tell the truth she could be kicked out of school, Sandor said. The meeting caused two men’s swimmers to miss work, and they later lost their positions as youth swimming instructors.
The next day, Feb. 10, at 12:30 p.m. all members who could attend met with Martin and McShea in a classroom in the Long Center. Martin read a statement that both teams were now suspended and would be forced to miss the conference championship meet.
“As soon as he said suspended, people, myself … completely broke down,” Cohen said through tears. “This is my last semester in this school and I can honestly say after three-and-a-half good years, this ruined everything, everything. Fifteen years of my life, gone.”
Sandor said head coach DeAngelo was not informed of the teams’ suspension until a swim team member called him after the meeting with Martin and McShea. Attempts to confirm this with McShea and DeAngelo were unsuccessful.
Sandor said she later asked Martin why DeAngelo was not informed by Martin or the administration of the teams’ suspension. Martin said it was none of her business and she should not be asking that.
During the meeting Feb. 10, Cohen said a junior men’s swim team member engaged in a five-minute shouting match with McShea. He said she will not see another team that is more like a family than the swim team. McShea said she was getting emotional and was at The University until 10 p.m. the night before helping make the decision to suspend the team because she said she cares about the team members.
Attempts to contact McShea via email and in person were not successful. The Aquinas also contacted Zygmunt to set up an interview with McShea to follow up on concerns raised by swimmers, the events that transpired during her Feb. 10 meeting with swimmers, and questions about the allegations brought against the teams. Zygmunt, who said he was replying on McShea’s behalf, referred The Aquinas to McShea’s campus-wide email.
The Aquinas asked Zygmunt for comment from McShea on whether sending an email to The University community was a required part of the investigation process. He again referred The Aquinas to her email.
When asked through email and in person for comment on the situation, Martin did not comment and referred The Aquinas to The University’s public relations department. DeAngelo did not return three email requests for an interview. Landmark Conference Commissioner Dan Fisher did not return a voicemail requesting an interview.
The team was scheduled to leave for the Landmark Conference Championship in Boyd, Maryland, at 1 p.m. on Feb. 11, the day after they received the news of their suspension. Sandor said she already had her bag packed. She said her mother, who was not able to attend any meets this season because of travel expenses, already bought tickets to the meet and booked a hotel.
Sandor said she wants to know why the team is being punished while the investigation is ongoing and no one on the team has been charged.
“Because a decision was made to be suspended from champs in 48 hours and now they’re telling us we have to wait weeks to see what’s going to be the next step,” Sandor said. “I just think that’s unacceptable and it’s taking a toll on us in a lot of ways, academically, emotionally.”
Cohen said the punishment being issued one day after the investigation began is unfair.
“They’re not saying if we’re innocent or guilty,” Cohen said. “They mandated that we are guilty before we could be proven anything. We were punished (with suspension) before any kind of resolution.”
Upon receiving the news of their suspension, the seniors organized a meeting at the Byron Complex pool at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 10. Cohen said about 90 percent of team members attended. The seniors stood on the pool deck and “apologized for being robbed” of the last meet while the younger members sat in the bleachers.
This team-member-only meeting served as the unofficial end to the teams’ season.
“It was just such a beautiful moment. Every single person came and hugged every single one of us (seniors). That says more than any words,” Cohen said. “We are getting accused of all these things and we almost don’t care. It’s just how much it affected us. It doesn’t affect our friendship between each other. We’re all standing so strong in this.”
On Feb. 12, the team was offered a meeting with Rivera and the Rev. Richard Malloy, S.J. They thought it would be a support group, but it turned out to be more of a questioning session, said Sandor, who was one of about 15 members who attended. She said Malloy was informed about specifics of the investigation, details she thought were confidential. He agreed with The University’s decision to suspend the team and questioned one woman member about a specific team party, Sandor said.
Cohen said the swimmers wanted additional counseling options after their suspension, and parents wrote “hundreds of letters” to McShea. McShea responded by providing them with information about The University’s counseling center and said her door is always open, Cohen said.
Zygmunt said McShea also provided information to the teams about “the availability of campus counseling resources” at the Feb. 10 meeting when the suspension was announced.
The team members each received an email Feb. 15 from Jeffrey Kegolis, Ph.D., director of student conduct and assessment, instructing them to schedule a meeting for The University to gather more information for the investigation. Scheduling a meeting was optional, but the swimmers were not told this until Feb. 17 when their advisor, Professor Nicholas Truncale of the physics department, informed them the meetings are “investigative voluntary meetings,” Cohen said.
Kegolis declined to comment in person, referring The Aquinas to The University’s public relations department. Zygmunt referred The Aquinas to a prepared statement similar to McShea’s campus-wide email.
Eight hours after McShea’s campus-wide email was released on Feb. 17, the team held an optional meeting with advisor Truncale, whose role is to fight for a just process for both The University and the teams.
“They’re the same type of students I deal with every day,” Truncale said about the swimming and diving teams’ members. “They’re going through a difficult situation and they need support. And I’ll continue to give them support throughout and after the conduct process concludes.”
Many team members are consulting Truncale before making any moves. Earlier this week, some team members attended optional meetings with Truncale and optional meetings with members of the office of student conduct, while some chose to simply wait for the investigation to conclude.
Sandor has chosen not to meet with Truncale or student conduct, whereas Cohen met with both this week.
“I don’t have anything to hide so anything they ask me I will just blatantly tell them the truth,” Cohen said. “These horrible allegations I just don’t have a part of.”
Cohen and Sandor said although the conduct meetings are optional, Rivera said if many swimmers do not attend, Martin could look poorly on that fact and decide to extend the teams’ suspension for three to four years.
Although Sandor is upset about students’ views of the teams she has heard throughout campus and in the news, she said she can understand where they are coming from based on the information The University has provided to the students.
What she cannot understand is the way in which The University has investigated and communicated with the teams.
“If someone comes forward with this serious of (allegations), then yeah as a school it’s their job to investigate,” Sandor said. “But I just don’t understand the way they went about this whole thing. They didn’t do it in a way that was protecting our privacy, our mental health, our academics, and I don’t think that anybody understands the severity of not going to champs.”
Cohen said she cannot see any of her teammates engaging in these acts they were accused of.
“I would like to say don’t rush to conclusions,” Cohen said. “But I think McShea already said that.”
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