Letter to the Editor

Suzanne Coffey, Amherst’s Director of Athletics, writes in response to “Elephant in the Room” in support of the College’s student-athletes.

I’m disappointed that a tenured professor at Amherst College would write in broad prejudiced strokes about our students. His speech is deliberately hurtful, and frankly sad. Substitute a different other group — based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual preference — for athlete and most of us wouldn’t tolerate his outbursts.

Either Mr. Dumm doesn’t know anything about our students who play sports at Amherst, or if he does, he chooses to ignore any facts that might impede his vituperative attack. The student-athletes I know are headed for graduate school, medical school, law school and Teach for America. They are campus and community leaders, accomplished athletes, musicians, actors and writers whose talents are recognized on and off campus. Our athletes support children with brain tumors through the Friends of Jaclyn; they’ve raised money for cancer research, and they tutor children at the W.E.B. DuBois Academy in Springfield. In fact 100 percent of our varsity teams participate in community outreach. It’s a value that we believe teaches humility and a better understanding for the world we live in. Our student-athletes spend countless hours engaged — which it seems is just what we want to foster at Amherst. Most of them are connected citizens who care deeply about their classmates, their college and their community. They are mentored by hard-working coaches who every day do their best to fulfill our mission and help the College educate “men and women of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value, and advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence.”

Are student-athletes perfect? No, they are not. Who is? Do they get into trouble? Occasionally, yes. Are they more to blame for the problems we are finally facing on campus? No, they are not.

Student-athletes, like most other students on this campus, lead complicated lives. What they share in common is the intensity required of dedicated students at one of the most academically rigorous institutions in the land.

Our athletes do indeed succeed in the classroom, including in Professor Dumm’s classroom. Amherst athletes best our NESCAC competitors each season with academic all-conference honors. At Amherst, academics always come first. That’s evidenced by the grades earned by athletes in courses taught by Professor Dumm. Students share their grades with their coaches, so we know that the very student-athletes the professor most vilifies earn some of the best grades in Dumm’s classes. We work hard in Athletics to teach our students that every voice counts that every challenge is to be met head-on and taking a course with a professor who loudly voices his disdain for those things that are also important to our students should not deter them from learning more about him and what he has to offer. Too bad this isn’t a two way street.