I was on a varsity sports team for three years. After the Wood party, the anger towards athletic culture is warranted.

Rebecca Tauber

Every so often, news headlines are full of stories about students pledging fraternities or sororities who get tragically injured or even die during hazing rituals. When this happens, it ruptures a sense of community safety and requires people to take personal responsibility. It also often sparks schoolwide or even nationwide conversations about the dangers of hazing and the underlying problems with Greek life.

Not all fraternities and sororities have hazing rituals, and many student groups that are not a part of Greek life also have hazing rituals. But it would be absurd for universities to talk about this issue as a problem at large, disconnected from the dynamics of Greek life.

Similarly, it would be ignorant of us to talk about the party at Wood without addressing athletic culture at large. Of course, many non-athletes go to parties (even during COVID), and not all athletes were at this particular party. One of my closest friends here is an athlete who follows the COVID and College rules to a higher degree than anyone else I know. But we are fooling ourselves if we ignore the larger dynamics at play here.

The Wood party brought to the surface underlying social hierarchies and power dynamics that have always existed at Williams. I write this as a former athlete of a sport drenched in privilege (rowing): We must use this moment to recognize how playing a sport at Williams provides a form of power in this community.

The moment I stepped onto campus as a first-year, I immediately had this feeling that I had to “make it” on the crew team because I could sense that my social life would be easier. I would automatically have a set of friends, upperclassmen mentors, parties to attend, and a group to be a part of. For some people, playing a sport here even gives them an almost-assurance they’ll get in, months before anyone else knows their admission status.

There are so many other ways this college is built for athletes: The able-bodied image of the ideal Williams student that tells disabled students they are not welcome. The ability (socially and often socioeconomically) to sign for one of the very few off-campus houses freshman or sophomore year that provide a form of social clout and play an outsized role in campus social life. The way that recruiting disproportionately benefits richer, whiter students. The fact that during the pandemic, athletes can gather both indoors and outdoors in groups larger than 10 to practice, with access to athletic facilities almost every day of the week, while non-athletes cannot access athletic equipment nearly as often or gather in groups over 10. Meanwhile, other student groups do not have access to similar spaces and cannot gather inside in the same way, even for extra-curricular meetings.

I hope that we as a community can take this opportunity to critically examine the power dynamics and social hierarchies that the Wood party merely shone an extra-bright spotlight on. 

To the administration: Instead of telling students to “be nice” and reprimanding them for expressing anger at these dynamics the party merely brought to the fore, take this chance to start conversations about these underlying problems. Ask why students may be reacting this way to begin with, and consider ways to shift the culture and power on this campus so that it is less divided and more inclusive of those who do not fit the historic ideal of the Williams student. 

To my fellow athletes, whether you were at the party or not: Think about these power dynamics and social hierarchies that we all uphold (I include myself here because although I no longer row, I spent three years here on the crew team). If your team had a large percentage of on-campus students go remote, what does that say about your team culture? Did you breathe a sigh of relief because it was this party that was busted, and not a party you hosted last semester? How will you reckon with this, not just through individual responsibility, but as a collective?

I am not telling anyone to quit their sports team or disavow organized athletics. As someone who rowed competitively for seven years, I know how much joy, meaning, and purpose athletics can bring. And I know the pain that comes with losing competition seasons due to the pandemic. But I also know that being on a team at Williams is a privilege, not a right. And I know that we cannot just go back to normal life, dig our heels in, and say we feel unfairly targeted. 

If we are lucky, if the Wood party was not a superspreader event and no one gets ill due to the extreme irresponsibility of some in our community, we cannot just exhale a sigh of relief and move on. We need to embrace the anger so many feel after many students who hold some of the most privilege on this campus put others at risk — particularly Black and Brown communities hit harder by the pandemic; immunocompromised and disabled students, faculty, and staff, many of whom put themselves at risk every day in order for us to attend school in person; students who rely on the College for housing; and the broader Berkshires community where most of us are four-year guests, not full-time residents.

We need to sit with the discomfort in the fact that this party pulled back the curtain on power dynamics that have always existed but that many of us have had the privilege to ignore. I know I will.

Rebecca Tauber ’21 is a history and English major and Jewish studies concentrator from Bala Cynwyd, Pa.