Letter to the Editor: Taking pride in unity

To the Editor:

Within the next decade, all of us as astute, impressive, world-changing Williams College alumni will, in all likelihood, receive an email from a current Williams student. Some may be seeking advice, others may ask about job opportunities and still more could just be curious about how you found a way to persevere through the inevitable difficulties we all encounter here. Regardless of the subject, the response will be warm-hearted and enthusiastic as many of us have already experienced in reaching out to the alumni network. This stems from a connection we all share as Williams students, one that extends far beyond the geographical limits of the purple bubble and even farther beyond the short four years we actually attend the College. We should take pride in this unity, as it is significant enough to override the often fruitless and unnecessary labels we categorize each other with while still students. With graduation, these labels will be forgotten and surmounted by the one feature that we all share: a Williams education. After all, could anyone imagine being an alumnus and refusing to respond to a student’s email solely because of their choice to not participate in athletics?

Possibly the most generalist of labels we utilize is the classification of students as either athletes or non-athletes, as Rika Shabazz ’17 points out clearly in last week’s edition of the Record. A more nuanced discussion would therefore refer to varsity athletes as the source of “athletic arrogance” on campus. As representatives of the 32 recognized varsity teams at Williams, we as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) would like to offer a formal apology on behalf of the entire varsity athlete community for the incident that spurred the writing of Shabazz’s editorial. We do not condone the immaturity in attitude and opinion expressed by those described in the op-ed and certainly do not believe these blatantly offensive incidents to be prevalent on campus. However, we recognize the existence of a culture in varsity athletics that permits the perpetuation of such arrogant overtones, which cannot be better exemplified than through the use of “nonner” as a derogatory reference. We call on all varsity athletes to be cognizant of the derogatory nature of this word and to think critically about the labels and characteristics we project upon our fellow students and how our interactions in the social sphere are perceived by our entire campus. Varsity athletes share the same deep connection that each of us as students have to the Williams community and will respond by implementing the cultural change our community desires.

The responsibility for the improvement of our community does not and should not rest solely on varsity athletes. As Shabazz’s article demonstrates, there is a level of disrespect towards varsity athletes as well as an over-generalization of the identities of more than 800 students in our community. While some aspects of what it means to be varsity athletes are visible, we too have complex identities that are often invisible to the rest of the Williams community. We take the same classes, eat the same food and have the same anxieties as our fellow students. To suggest that every varsity athlete is a spandex-owning, training-room-visiting, highlight-watching socialite is to project the very same false, binary distinction upon a group of Williams students and marginalize the effort, dedication and sacrifice varsity athletes make as representatives of the excellence of Williams College.

In order to combat the ease with which we at Williams are willing to label and assign these binary associations, we must be willing to openly discuss our differences and our similarities. As in many instances, simple conversation can alleviate the tension and resentment that prevents a community from feeling fully united. SAAC looks forward to organizing opportunities to hold such conversations.

The Student-Athlete Advisory Committee