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posted: 9/19/2017 5:50 PM

Editorial: New hazing charges provide yet another reminder of need for culture of respect

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  • Wheaton College is the latest organization to be roiled by a controversy over charges of excessive hazing.

      Wheaton College is the latest organization to be roiled by a controversy over charges of excessive hazing.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 

Sadly, the story is one that we have heard far too often.

And while those accused in the Wheaton College hazing assault on two freshman football players are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the case as described by police reminds us that the message against hazing is one that needs constant reminding and vigilance.

It was not even a year ago when we said in this space that schools must "emphasize the message throughout the year with discussions and presentations that involve students, coaches and parents. Make it part of the culture."

That was after Maine Township High School District 207 settled a high-profile lawsuit involving past allegations of hazing and assault involving members of its boys soccer team.

The Wheaton case comes not a quite a year after hazing accusations roiled the Lake Zurich High School football team and resulted in the resignations of the head football coach, an assistant coach and athletic director. Before the Lake Zurich season started this year, the school made sure to emphasize a new culture, one that focuses on respect.

"I think that word would solve so many problems in the entire world, if we just learn to respect people," new head coach Luke Mertens said.

Indeed, respect is the key. As police describe the encounter, the Wheaton College freshman was not respected. He told authorities he was tackled by the football players in his dorm room, his legs and wrists were wrapped in duct tape and a pillow case was put over his head before being carried out of the dorm and placed in the back seat of a vehicle where the attackers talked of sexually violating him.

During this time, prosecutors say, his shoulder muscles were torn, resulting in at least three surgeries so far. He eventually was dumped in a park and left there, according to the authorities. All five players remained on the nationally ranked Wheaton College football team as of this past weekend -- yet, Wheaton College leaders acknowledge the incident was reported in March 2016.

"This had a devastating effect on my life. What was done to me should never occur in connection with participation in a football program or any other activity," the victim said in a news release provided by his DuPage County attorney, Terry Ekl.

College officials say they are "deeply troubled" by the allegations against their five football players. The conduct is "entirely unacceptable and inconsistent with the values we share as human beings and as members of an academic community."

What Wheaton College officials now must do is prove that their actions after they were told of the situation more than a year ago were appropriate. They hired an independent third-party investigator to conduct an internal investigation that they say led to "corrective actions."

The case against the football players will be determined in court. At some point, the college community and the community at large need to understand whether Wheaton College officials did enough to help prevent future cases. And all schools and organizations need to be having those discussions that emphasize a culture of respect.

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