Letter to the Editor
Having read both Professor Dumm’s article and the report on sexual misconduct released by the Special Oversight Committee, I would like to respond as a senior male student-athlete. Firstly, I believe that it is important for us to question reports derived from the administration in order to continue to improve our community as a whole. I’d also like to say that I respect Professor Dumm’s critiques, even though I disagree with many of them.
I agree that the committee should not have said, “it is a stereotyped assumption that athletes are more prone to sexual misconduct than non-athletes,” because statistics from other research clearly support the contrary. Yes, across the country athletes have shown to be more likely to be involved in cases of sexual assault, but not at Amherst College. The committee did not report this national trend, but instead they looked at our own statistics. They reported that the relationship between previous instances of sexual misconduct and our own student-athletes were not significant. To compare Amherst’s culture to those of the Division I schools cited in Meegan Mercurio’s thesis is ignorant. I’d like to think that we strive for the highest social and academic expectations, as Amherst students, whether that is for a student-athlete or a non-athlete. The report shows that we have an average amount of reported sexual misconduct on campus compared to our peer institutions; however, our committee explicitly examined athletes and still found no evidence to show Amherst athletes are prone to commit sexual assault. The committee clearly states that some athletes are guilty, as are some frat members and members of other leadership groups, but if the committee really wanted to hide athletes, then they would not have even mentioned them. The fact that athletes were mentioned, yet explicitly left out, means that the committee felt the assaults reported are individualistic acts, and it is inappropriate to generalize athletes. To generalize male athletes would be to put 16% of Amherst into the same condition. The committee was protecting the majority of athletes from being unnecessarily associated with horrible crimes committed. Instead, a respected professor used his power to write an article that not only undermined the committee’s intentions, but also forced a label of sexism, homophobia and of poor character on hundreds of Amherst male athletes for the whole world to see.
In light of this data from the committee, I still respect and support the general idea of investigating athletes, but only because it is a nationwide problem, not because it is readily evident here. Professor Dumm provided a hypothesis that claimed tightly knit team bonds could cause underreporting of sexual assaults. In a hypothetical situation, I cannot prove or disprove the validity of that claim. I can, however, attest to the values instilled in “team-sport” athletes throughout their careers, and specifically at Amherst. Respect, leadership and accountability are three qualities that initially come to mind. Lessons taught on respect quickly transcend the team dynamic and apply to peers. Leading comes in various forms, but vocal leadership and leadership through example is integral in the athlete culture. Finally the thought of being accountable for the actions of you and your teammates at any given moment is ever present. You can then apply these qualities to social situations. I’d like to believe that the majority of athletes respect the decisions of their romantic interest and do not intend on raping someone that night (http://www.middlebury.edu/media/view/240951/original/PredatoryNature.pdf).
Therefore, they would respect their counterpart and lead by example. Let’s say something like alcohol skews one of these player’s judgment on a given night; respect and leadership could be lost, but the judgment and intervention of other teammates is something that only athletes have. This teammate intrusion is not uncommon, and to perceive athletes as a group that does not question one another’s decisions in order to support or deny a rape claim is baseless. We are encouraged to question the choices we make as individuals and as a team. If anything, being on an athletic team at Amherst provides a failsafe for these mistakes being made. On top of the aforementioned lessons being instilled throughout student-athletes’ careers, a specific program called Amherst LEADS has been further pushing these values to athletes for over two years. They have also made it mandatory for all first-year athletes to attend these forums to ensure all athletes are taught these lessons. LEADS also promotes “changing what’s cool” in order to restore respect and chivalry while removing colloquial epithets about race, gender and sexuality from daily use. It is unfortunate to hear anecdotes about homophobic and misogynistic encounters, but I believe those have become the exception and not the rule.
In regards to identifying a singular group for responsibility, I believe that the committee clearly stated that men that drink alcohol are the most likely group to commit a sexual assault. I believe there is a large overlap with upperclassmen athletes and alcohol consumption, but that does not imply that all upperclassmen consuming alcohol are athletes. This distinction is important and is easy to miss as athletic teams generally are in the spotlight for throwing parties, but it does not make them the perpetrators.
If the committee unnecessarily singled out a group, it would do a disservice to that group not the school. It is not necessary to stereotype or be prejudiced in order to ask productive questions, but stereotyping a group can affect an individual’s life. Is it fair for a professor to stigmatize a group by criticizing a committee’s decision? If one feels so strongly about it, why not try to join or inquire within the committee first? I believe you need to ask questions, but not at the risk of somebody else’s reputation. The stigma of an Amherst athlete very well could stay with all of the Amherst male athletes for the rest of our lives. I care about the image of myself, my teammates, my fellow athletes, my fellow students and for the image of the College itself. I do believe that we need to improve as a community and stop sexual assault from happening. Continually reevaluating and restructuring is necessary for progress as Shaukat Aziz mentioned.
However, stereotyping athletes and criticizing the committee by citing anecdotes and studies with arguable relevance to our own situation is detrimental to us all. For an example of a good critique, Dana Bolger did a great job of questioning the athlete dynamic in the report in her article on the “it happens here” blog
Lastly, on an unrelated note, I don’t understand how anybody could complain about renovations to the field that will create a legitimate track, better facilities for seven teams and upgrades to fan seating, when a $220 million science building is being built as well. They are both improving student life.
Thanks for reading.