Athletes should not be judged

The role of athletics at Williams is under intense scrutiny. Many outside the Williams community define us by our diverse and capable student population and the multitude of ways talent is uniquely expressed. A sense of respect, equal opportunity and open-mindedness permeates the College – an environment of which we are proud.

President Schapiro echoed these ideals in his induction address in 2000: “At Williams, with a spectacularly talented and devoted faculty and staff, great physical and financial wealth and the absolute finest students in all of American higher education, we are obligated to realize a vision of educational excellence worthy of our extraordinary resources. . . [encouraging] the breaking down of departmental boundaries. . .[with a vision that includes] a way to link more effectively the education that takes place within the classroom with the education that takes place in the dorm rooms and dining halls and on the playing fields.”

A link between traditional education and learning that takes place outside lecture halls and classrooms must be acknowledged to begin breaking down boundaries.

Current criticism based on long-building tension and recent incidents is threatening the delicate balance between academics and extracurricular activities. Both are integral parts of the learning experience here at Williams. When these criticisms are laid out publicly – whether directly or indirectly – and when it is obvious that athletics are under a microscope, I react.

People say to me: “But they don’t mean you. This isn’t your issue. The statistics say that female athletes actually have a higher GPA than non-athletes. There has been no mention of the women’s varsity soccer program in this conversation.” But it is my issue.

I by no means define myself by the fact that I play varsity soccer during the fall. But I do take pride in it. I don’t know a single person involved in athletics here that doesn’t feel alienated by the blanket criticism athletics have experienced.

Truly, this devalues an educational experience in which we all invest much of our time and heart. It trivializes something that clearly demonstrates the value of teamwork and dedication.

Our pride in the Williams community manifests itself in the collective cheers and applause let loose during athletic competition. It is a way we can enjoy showing our support of the purple and gold and our respect for Williams tradition. The tenor of the current dialogue is undermining the principles our college community represents.

Our individuality is now being questioned. How can “athlete” or “non-athlete,” “musician” or “non-musician,” “artist” or “non-artist” be used as classifications? And how can the implications of one label be weighed in value against that of another?

Are we categorized by the organized activities in which we participate, without recognizing that an appreciation and personal participation in other arenas is entirely possible out of public view? I hope not.

The Williams athletic program is the least funded of all schools in the academically prestigious NESCAC conference. Williams allows the fewest number of “tips” coaches can give Admissions. Yet we still succeed. We succeed not because of money and not because of an enormous influx of students whose primary appeal to Admissions as applicants is athletic achievement.

We succeed because of the incredible tradition established and built upon by our athletic department and the endless stories we hear from alums of experiences that promoted learning that extended beyond classroom walls and extended to the gym, the fields, and the mountains.

Williams attracts students who aspire to excellence in all venues. I encourage you not to trivialize the culmination of many years worth of hard work and concentrated effort – regardless of the arena, or arenas, in which the investment is focused.

The role of athletes and athletics on the Williams campus cannot be reduced to mere statistics. Statistics can be misleading.

One statistic cites a higher correlation between athletes and Div. II majors. I statistically fall into that category as an American Studies major. That measure disregards the countless hours I have spent satisfying pre-med requirements – and the fact that half of my semester courses have been concentrated in Div. III math and sciences.

Other statistics blatantly make inferences about certain teams and single them out – for example, the stat that men’s ice hockey players are 93 percent more likely to take “easy” courses. “Easy” is a subjective term and one that must be interpreted in light of high Williams standards.

A friend of mine plays on the men’s ice hockey team and is a double math/economics major. Does this mean that although he took two upper level math courses and one upper level economics course last spring, he does not apply himself to his academics because his fourth course was “easy” on a comparative scale? I think not.

Simply put, applying statistics to athletes as a group blatantly asserts that athletes are a collective entity and can be labeled as a group. Whatever happened to the emphasis on the individual at Williams? And all the first-year workshops we do to encourage diversity and demonstrate the negative consequences of labeling? Athletes are feeling labeled.

Williams has a legacy of excellence in faculty and students. It is a commonality that defines and unites us. President Schapiro also said in his induction address, “We can build on that legacy.” We must all contribute to, and build upon, that legacy.

The faculty is responsible for maintaining a challenging environment that both encourages and satisfies intellectual curiosity.

Students are responsible for rising to those challenges and upholding expectations in the classroom – and beyond. We are all tied together by a love of knowledge and passion for learning. Ultimately, we are all on the same page – and we all worked hard to get here.

Let us make a movement to try to understand the issues on a more human level, not based on statistics that ill-define who we are as individuals. Simple respect – an all-important principle at Williams – must be put into practice, by and for all of us.

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