In late October, a St. Thomas University student was found dead in his building’s stairwell after a weekend party with his volleyball teammates. Questions began swirling immediately as to the circumstances of this tragic event, some of which have been answered, many of which the university is dancing around.
The death of 21-year-old Andrew Bartlett has been ruled an accident, but police have confirmed that alcohol was a factor in the events that led up to the fourth-year student’s fatal fall. The university has now suspended the men’s volleyball team for the rest of the year after hazing rituals were discovered at the same party Bartlett attended the night he died.
But no one will say if the two events are related in any way. Both the university and the Fredericton police are choosing their words very carefully.
In a press conference on Thursday, university president Dennis Cochrane outlined the findings of an internal investigation into the matter: The party involved drinking games where the rookie players were required to pay more for alcohol than team veterans. Though Cochrane says no evidence was found that anyone on the team was forced to drink, it’s clear a hierarchy was at play.
“There was a very clear identification of rookies, very clearly a treatment of them different than other members of the team,” he said. Cochrane went on to say that the events of Oct. 23 fit the university’s description of hazing.
While I realize the need for sensitivity in this matter, and I can sympathize with what Bartlett’s family, friends and teammates are going through, this is a question that needs to be answered and an issue that needs to be addressed. Two scenarios could have been at play. Either Bartlett was simply having fun with his friends, drank too much and a tragic accident occurred that could have happened any night of the year. Or he was trying desperately to impress his new teammates and live up to their standards. The key will be determining whether or not he would have drank the same way if the environment he was in was different.
If the hazing and team party are related to Bartlett’s fall and death, the entire story becomes a dark mark in our history. He very well may be the first hazing-related death in this country, and that is something that needs to be addressed more seriously than simply suspending a team for the year.
Hazing in Canada has gone beyond embarrassing headlines and has potentially crossed over into a realm we’ve never had to deal with before. We’ve never had a hazing-related death before. If Bartlett died because of a hazing ritual, then this needs to be public knowledge so we can figure out how to change this culture immediately before more people die.