Towson University football will be playing its home opener on Friday, but the school’s cheerleading squad won’t be there to cheer the team on. Nor will the cheer squad be at the Homecoming game on October 12. In fact, there won’t be any cheerleaders participating in any university exhibitions, either on campus and off, for the rest of the semester.
Towson's cheerleading squad—the 2013 All-Girl Cheer National Champions—have been suspended from competing for the entire fall semester due to allegations of hazing. As bad as that sounds, the team had originally been suspended from competition and practice in August, but they were granted a reprieve by a university appeals board on Wednesday. The appeals board said in its ruling this week that the team had not been aware of the specifics of the hazing policy, since they were not considered an athletic team. The squad will have to complete 650 hours of community service by the end of the fall semester, and they have been prohibited from participating in any campus and off-campus cheer events, although they are now allowed to practice. New members of the team do not have to participate in the community service.
“In general, we take any allegation of hazing very, very seriously and basically have a zero-tolerance policy toward hazing,” said Deb Moriarty, Towson’s Vice President of Student Affairs. “We really want to hold our students, particularly our students who are in leadership positions around campus, to the highest standard of conduct.”
The university and the cheerleaders have kept quiet so far about the allegations. Cheerleading Head Coach Edy Pratt refused to comment, and squad members have remained tight-lipped. According to the university, the Office of Student Conduct received an anonymous call about the alleged hazing in early August and an investigation was launched on August 7. On August 23, the team was suspended for the entire 2013-14 academic year. No one was injured in the alleged hazing, the university said.
The cheerleading squad decided to fight the allegations and presented an appeal to an appointed Student Appeal Committee, made up of four faculty members, two staff members, and two students. The identities of the members of Student Appeals Committee have not been released. The cheerleading squad’s status was peeled back from the academic year suspension to social probation for the semester. Although there appeared to be evidence to support the allegations, Moriarty said there were “things that fell through the cracks in term of educational process” of the cheerleading team.
One cheerleader told the school’s independent newspaper, The Towerlight, at the time of the suspension that the squad would “like the support of the university at this time.”
Towson’s policy on hazing defines it as “any action taken on or off campus, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule. Any mental or physical requirement, request or obligation placed upon any person that could cause pain, disgrace, or injury, or is personally degrading or violates any federal, state, local statute or university policy is also considered hazing.”
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