The “athlete/non-athlete divide” is a term that has become embedded in Williams culture. We’ve heard about it time and time again; So why, you ask, am I writing yet another article on this topic? The answer is that the athlete/non-athlete divide is not our largest issue, and yet it is addressed as if it is.
There are many issues that we should be discussing instead of the athlete/non-athlete divide. Two that I feel particularly strongly about are sexual assault and homophobia here on campus. I don’t believe in the athlete/non-athlete divide, but regardless of whether or not you do, do you really think it needs to be addressed as often and as aggressively as it was last year? It would be wonderful to think that the College’s only problem was whether athletes and non-athletes could sit on the same side of Mission dining hall; unfortunately, Williams is not that fortunate. We miss out on speaking about other important issues by rehashing this one over and over again.
The athlete/non-athlete divide is the alleged invisible barrier that builds up between those people at the College who play sports and those who do not. People talk as if athletes choose not to be friends with “nonners” simply because they don’t play sports. Personally, I don’t know any athletes who go through lists of people and cross them off as friends because they do not participate in athletics. No doubt, commitments to team events might make it more difficult to have time with friends who are not on your team, but these workouts, practices, dinners and yes, parties, do not prevent people from being friends with others. My housing pick group, for example, consists of two athletes and four non-athletes, and we all still love each other despite having different interests – athletic or otherwise.
Last year, it seemed as if the athlete issue was addressed because it was the most approachable of all the problems on campus. To a point, participating in athletics is a choice, so it might be less offensive to talk about than race, homosexuality, religion, gender, socioeconomics or other elements of our lives that are not in our control. Those issues, however, need addressing as well. If we tiptoe around the bigger problems, how can we make the College a home for everyone?
One issue that needs to be addressed on campus is sexual assault. In the beginning of my freshman year, my JAs warned us to stay away from four upperclassman boys because they had a reputation for violating girls on campus. I did not understand how this could happen on a regular basis, but people explained that girls were afraid to take action against these boys because the College has a small campus and these boys were popular, and so the girls might not be supported. We do have great organizations, such as the Rape and Sexual Assault Network (RASAN), that are here to support people when they are sexually assaulted. RASAN hosts events such as Take Back the Night to address these problems in a public forum. I remember meeting with RASAN members during First Days last year, but other than that first week and their event in the spring, I don’t feel like RASAN was given a substantial enough opportunity to address us as a whole community in a public manner. Instead it seemed that every time there was a public forum, the athlete-non-athlete divide fell first on the list.
Keeping with issues of gender and sexuality, what about the treatment of gay and lesbian students on campus? Does homophobia exist here? At the end of last year, one of my entrymates returned home to find penises drawn on his door along with comments like, “I love gay sex.” He happens to be gay. Some people argued that the incident could have been a random attack and not directed at him because of his homosexuality. Regardless of whether or not he was targeted, Williams is no place for gay slurs, and we need to publicly fight to prevent incidents like this one. Although College Council did briefly bring up homophobia as a problem last year, we clearly have not done enough to address these issues.
It is not only gay and lesbian students who face prejudices on campus. At times, people of different racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds face them as well. If we took a small amount of the time we spend talking about the athlete/non-athlete divide and talked about prejudices such as these, we could make the College a place where everyone feels safe and accepted.
We can debate endlessly whether or not the athlete/non-athlete divide exists. In fact, I think we’ve debated it for a whole year. You want to debate? Let’s debate – but let’s not forget the other issues that we’re putting in the rearview mirror. Just because the athlete/non-athlete divide is an easy topic to discuss does not make it the right topic. Let’s start addressing the difficult ones as well.
Ali Piltch ’14 is from Bryn Mawr, Penn. She lives in Thompson.