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On the windy date in late March when two Iowa State University’s Crew Club members died after their boat capsized on Little Wall Lake, the club’s leadership “failed to follow critical health and safety procedures” outlined in the group’s constitution, according to internal and external reviews.
As a result of those assessments of the March 28 accident that killed ISU freshman Derek Nanni, 19, of Normal, Ill., and ISU sophomore Yaakov Ben-David, 20, of Washington, D.C., Iowa State has suspended the Crew Club’s activities for at least this academic year. And it’s developing a broader risk-assessment plan for all its student clubs and organizations — having found broader systemic failures.
“The reviews found that the university's implementation of health and safety policies for university sport clubs was deficient,” according to an ISU summary of the internal and external incident reviews. “Both reviews concluded that the university failed to clearly define roles and responsibilities for effective oversight of sport clubs, especially for higher risk activities such as the Crew Club.”
The reviews included one conducted by a committee of internal personnel “with student activity and student organization expertise” from the Office of University Counsel, Office of Risk Management, Student Activities Center, and Department of Public Safety Transportation Services.
Conducting the independent external review was the U.S. Council for Athletes Health, aided by Mark Wilson, co-founder of All American Rowing Camp and a rowing expert, according to U.S. Rowing.
Iowa State hasn’t released the full reports but will “after appropriate student-privacy measures have been applied.” The university hasn’t provided a timeline for that disclosure.
Regarding the reviews’ findings specific to the ISU Crew Club, they identified six major failures:
- Although Crew Club student leaders acknowledged wind speeds were outside acceptable limits just before the on-water activity, they didn’t cancel it;
- Student leaders didn’t “adequately respond” to worsening weather as the practice ensued;
- The group didn’t use a safety boat, even though conditions required one;
- Although required, no Crew Club team member or coach was on shore or in a “safety launch” to relay changing weather conditions or to respond to an emergency;
- Two team members lacked the on-water experience required for the day’s weather and water conditions, violating the club’s constitutional mandate prohibiting members from rowing in conditions outside their abilities;
- And team leaders didn’t ensure proper safety equipment or communication devices were available in the event of an emergency.
To the broader systemic failures, both reviews found Iowa State’s implementation of health and safety policies for its sports clubs was deficient at the time of the accident — leading to an inadequate level of oversight, training, and support not only for the Crew Club but for other “higher risk” groups.
Generally, according to the Iowa State summary, sports clubs are allowed to operate mostly autonomously “without prescribed and consistent oversight by the university” — regardless of risk level. In fact, Iowa State hasn’t analyzed relative risks and safety considerations for each sport club — resulting in inadequate health and safety policies and practices.
Additionally, reviewers found ISU failed to clearly define roles and responsibilities for club oversight — resulting in inadequate supervision. Although sport clubs must have a faculty or staff adviser to coordinate activities, those leaders aren’t “clearly empowered under current policy to provide administrative direction, make safety decisions, or otherwise adequately oversee club activities.”
“This lack of clarity in the administrative roles and administrative relationship with the Crew Club created an atmosphere where safety issues did not rise to an appropriate level of concern, coordination, and oversight by university administration, Recreation Services and the club itself,” according to the ISU summary.
Even where Crew Club leaders relayed safety concerns to Recreation Services officials, “neither the club leadership nor Recreation Services took adequate measures to address the safety concerns or suspend club activities.”
Based on recommendations from the reviews, Iowa State is suspending Crew Club activities for the 2021-2022 academic year — allowing for “implementation of all health and safety measures ultimately adopted by the university.”
Relevant ISU offices — like University Risk Management, Recreation Services, and the Student Activities Center — also will create a plan for “reconstruction or reorganization” of its sports clubs.
The plan must include:
- A risk review of every club, assigning to each a “high,” “moderate,” or “low” risk label;
- A method for implementing additional safety training and accountability;
- Safety training requirements for all team members, coaches, and advisers — depending on the risk level;
- And a mode for making policy revisions and clarifications that define authority and the roles of advisers and administrators — empowering them to halt activities for safety reasons;
The plan will evaluate other recommendations from the reviews, potentially producing “other structural changes.”
After taking those steps, Iowa State will prepare an “after-action report.” A proposed timeline has the new plan prepared by Jan. 31, 2022 and implementation complete by the 2022 spring semester’s end.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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