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After decades of participating in National Collegiate Water Ski competitions, the UCSB Waterski and Wakeboard team has been suspended by the university due to allegations of hazing.
The UCSB Recreational Sports team first received suspension for one full academic year following an incident in October 2011 when a student member was injured at the team’s annual Alumni Weekend. After a year of suspension that concluded June 30, 2012 and ongoing negotiations with university administration, the team received notice on Jan. 28, 2013 that they would be officially suspended for four years. According to a letter sent out to club members by former team captain Ryan Jones, the initial suspension period was imposed on the team for their engagement in a hazing activity called “boat races,” which took place at a private ski lake over the 2011 Alumni Weekend.
According to Jones, a fourth-year physics and psychology major, the initial suspension period was to be followed by a year of discretionary probation spanning the 2012-13 academic year. Under this probation, social events would be prohibited and the team would be required to hire a permanent head coach who would attend all official events.
However, the team applied for reinstatement into the Recreational Sports program and was officially accepted as a sports club on June 30, 2012, lifting the discretionary probation they were originally given, according to Jones.
In spite of this, the team received a letter from Recreational Sports Director Jon Spaventa in August 2012 that allegedly stated the team would “be placed on an indefinite suspension pending the outcome of a formal review process conducted by the Office of Student Life,” according to Jones.
Jones said he and other team officers met with Stephan Franklin, director of the Office of Judicial Affairs, the following month to negotiate what sanctions the team would undergo in order to continue competing. Despite these efforts, the club received notification in late January that it would be officially suspended for a four-year period.
Spaventa said the team committed certain violations resulting in the decision made by Judicial Affairs, but added that the Department of Recreational Sports did not play a part in the decision-making that resulted in the team’s suspension.
“The team is on suspension for student conduct-related issues,” Spaventa said. “The team committed a student conduct violation, and they went before the student conduct folks and went through a process and had a student conduct termination. Quite honestly, it is not something we have much say in.”
Former team member Annie Ragusa, a third-year chemical engineering major, said the team received the initial suspension due to alcohol-related activities.
“The university conducted an investigation of the weekend events and found out that we had been drinking, and since it was a school event, it wasn’t allowed,” Ragusa said. “We recognized that we broke the rules and now we had to pay the consequences. We spent the next year working with the Rec Sport staff, the director of sports clubs Taggart Malone, just trying to rework our policies.”
These efforts included meeting with a number of UCSB administrators and officials including Judicial Council officials and assistant deans, according to Jones.
Franklin declined to comment on the disciplinary actions taken in regard to the UCSB Waterski and Wakeboard team, but said the Office of Judicial Affairs strives to be reasonable and impartial in all its decision-making.
“We simply investigate the situation and move on to more formal hearings if necessary,” Franklin said. “We’re fair and we try our best to listen to both sides.”
Ragusa said prior to the incident, the team was unaware of the university’s definition of what activities constituted “hazing.”
“It was a shock, but definitely by the school’s definition, we were in violation. The school’s definition of hazing is that if you participate in any event voluntarily or involuntarily, and then feel remorseful, regretful, ashamed, embarrassed in any way, you can blame the team or organization for hazing,” Ragusa said. “But the part that caught us all off guard is that hazing doesn’t mean that you’re forcing someone to do anything.”
To handle the 2011 incident, the team opted out of attending a hearing to defend its actions and instead chose to take the punishment, Jones said in an email. The officers were also given an opportunity to write a proposal of guidelines for their punishment to potentially receive a shorter sentence.
However, Ragusa said all these efforts did not result in a less harsh punishment and instead, the university has virtually ended the team’s activity completely.
“So as a team, we decided to ask for a suspension of two years — including the previous year of suspension — totaling to three years since the event,” Ragusa said. “We thought that was pretty fair, but we are now sentenced to a four-year sentence from now, which pretty much means the end of the team.”
Since the group will not be able to reconvene for the next four years, no current team member will be around to put together a new team, Ragusa said.
“I kind of agree that we deserve punishment — that’s not even a question in my mind. But the fact that the suspension is four years now means that no team member, ever, will be at UCSB when the team is allowed to become a team again,” Ragusa said. “There is going to really be no one to pick up the pieces of a team that is decades and decades old.”
The team is currently not allowed to practice, host events or even use the UCSB name in any affiliation to the team.