Admin to review team party policies in wake of student death
In a small bus barrelling down a New Brunswick highway, friends and acquaintances of Andrew Bartlett prepare for his funeral.
Sitting in the front seat, volleyball coach Darcy McKillop fiddles with his tie and checks his Blackberry. Behind him, two students sit quietly listening to music and reading. Next to them, two student reporters (including this one) are planning their stories. At the back of the bus, sit the varsity volleyball players. Dressed casually in track pants and sweats, the guys talk and joke loudly, their laughter reaching the front of the bus.
When we pull into the small picturesque town of St. Andrews, teammates change into suits and ties before filing out of the bus. Now they’re ready to mourn.
Similarly, back in Fredericton, it’s an awkward and, at times, uncomfortable mix of students struggling with Bartlett’s death. St. Thomas is mourning, but it’s also a campus divided—struggling to define one student’s legacy.
Student journalists have been asking questions about Bartlett’s death and hazing on campus. Meanwhile the administration isn’t saying much, releasing few comments about the circumstances of Bartlett’s death. His volleyball teammates, allegedly the last people to see him, are also choosing not to talk. In the middle of it all, Bartlett’s close friends are fighting to control how a friend is remembered.
“He wouldn’t want to be a poster boy for hazing,” says Derek Montague of his late friend. Montague was one of Bartlett’s closest friends. Since Bartlett’s passing, Montague has fielded interview requests from CBC, CTV and the New Brunswick Beacon.
Even as a journalist, it has been difficult for Montague to watch his friend’s story be dissected by the media.
“It’s tough. Me and many of Andrew’s friends have watched and listened from the beginning, hoping that they do justice to Andrew and his memory. So far I’ve been satisfied,” says the fourth-year student.
Montague says he’s concerned that speculation about the circumstance of Bartlett’s death will overshadow his friend’s legacy.
“I just want Andrew to be remembered the way he deserves to be remembered, as an amazing person and friend. He shouldn’t take a back seat to any rumour,” says Montague.
According to a Beacon, journalist, Bartlett attended a party in Harrington Hall where he was subjected to a rookie initiation. He and his teammates later moved off campus and continued the party, which involved heavy drinking.
Unconfirmed reports indicate he was taken home around 11 p.m.
Police found Bartlett’s body in a stairwell in his apartment building on the morning of Oct. 24. The investigation into Bartlett’s death is ongoing. The cause of death is believed to be accidental, but police won’t confirm the suspected cause of death or even the place where Bartlett died until an autopsy report is released.
Crystal Cline, another close friend of Bartlett’s says she believes he fell in his stairwell. It is unknown how long he was there, but police responded to a call at his residence at 5 a.m.
Cline admits that she has questions about that night, but right now grieving and moving on are more important.
“Sometimes you have to learn to let things go,” she says.
The people who do know what happened at the party, his teammates, aren’t talking to the media.
In a text message, team member Brett Lewis said: “Myself or anyone else on the team have nothing to say and we respect the statements of Jeff Carleton who will speak on our behalf.”
Jeffery Carleton, communications director for STU, says the administration did not tell students to keep quiet.
“These are young people trying to cope,” said Carleton, “and they may not feel they want to talk to the media. That’s a choice that they’ve made.”
Another STU athlete, who isn’t a member of the volleyball team and wishes to remain anonymous, was told by a coach not to speak the media. The coach was concerned that the media would be speculating about hazing at STU.
Carleton said there is an administrative directive to forward all media requests made to STU administrators and coaches to his office. However, no such instruction has been given to students.
STU President Dennis Cochrane issued a statement on Oct. 31 stating that the dean of students, the registrar and the athletics director are reviewing “any aspects of this situation that may relate to student services or varsity athletics.”
Carleton says the university hasn’t released a full statement yet because Larry Batt, dean of students, and Mike Eagles, athletics director, are investigating.
At this time, Carleton can’t say when the review will end.
“When the president has complete information, that will be the time to release a statement,” said Carleton.
In the meantime, media attention around their friend’s death has made it harder for Bartlett’s friends to grieve.
“This has been a very difficult week for me and my friends,” said Cline, who fears that there’s too much speculation about Bartlett’s death.
“In reality we don’t really know…There are no facts about it. I really feel like people are jumping the gun on things” says Cline. “I know people are doing a lot of stories on hazing and things like that and I just feel like you should wait for the facts to be presented before you can connect it.”
Cline, a fourth-year journalism student, was disappointed to find out that her friend’s death had become the subject of assignments for classmates.
“It just really hurts because it feels like it’s being a tabloid … like they are out to get the story… They’re not really thinking about how it affects students at this university.”
She hopes student journalists will be sensitive and professional when it comes to this story but she wants her friend’s legacy to be about more than hazing.
“People should know how great of a person Andrew was, and that he was a really good friend. He would do anything for anyone,” says Cline. “He wasn’t a dramatic person. He wasn’t a showy person. I just want people to remember him for who he was and not what happened.”
Joanne Goodall, another friend of Bartlett’s, echoes the sentiment.
“He was a hilarious awkward guy, who loved hanging out with his friends,” says Goodall.
Both women describe Bartlett as very responsible, someone who knew his limits with alcohol and wasn’t known to get carried away.
Goodall fears that after Bartlett’s friends leave STU he won’t be remembered for the right things.
“Everytime a coach talks to a team about not having a rookie party, they’re going to use him as an example. Every wet-dry dance, they can use him as an example…And so every year he’s mentioned there’s not going to be anyone there to explain who he was in real life. The St. Thomas community will just remember him as someone who drank himself to death,” says Goodall. “And we don’t want that.”