‘We know who it is’: Party culture among student-athletes

March 10, 2018

Emotions ran high after news of the Wood party broke. 

Alexa Walkovitz ’21, a non-athlete, said that they were initially baffled by the news. 

“What would make you think that’s OK? Like, we can barely gather in groups of 10,” they said. “[It just felt like a] big ‘f— you’ to the rest of us of, like, we don’t give a s— about you, your families, the people in town, the efforts you’re putting in, your pain. We’re going to do what we want, because we want to do it.”

While everyone makes mistakes, Walkovitz argued, this was not a mistake. “We’re a year, over a year, into a pandemic… It just felt so disrespectful, privileged, stupid,” they said.

In a March 7 email, Mandel addressed the emotional and social dimensions of the incident’s aftermath, specifically mentioning what she characterized as some students’ inappropriate displays of anger. 

“I know you feel frustrated,” she wrote. “But on social media some of you have descended into derision, stereotyping and stigmatization. This must stop. The college has already imposed consequences. It is gratuitous and cruel to pile on.” 

The reference to social media likely alluded in part to memes in the Facebook group “Williams Memes for sun-dappled tweens,” where some students posted memes making fun of athletes for their disproportionate presence at the Wood party.

Walkovitz said they were disappointed in  the administration’s response, which “felt really protective of [the student-athletes] and really hostile towards people who were upset.”  

According to two students who attended the party, a majority of the attendees were student-athletes, and the invitation to the party was circulated in part through connections among sports teams, although non-athletes were also present. 

“I definitely heard of students who were connecting with teammates,” one party attendee who asked to remain anonymous told the Record. “But I would say that’s much more coincidental. I definitely heard about it through not teammates as well. It definitely was more of people just connecting through their social network of other students that happen to go out — whether or not they were an athlete or a non-athlete was totally coincidental.”

Of course, the stereotype that student-athletes are social and inclined to party even during a pandemic is not representative of all teams or all the students on any particular team. Still, student-athletes agreed that some teams — especially tight-knit, team-based sports — may be associated with partying culture, especially as compared to sports that focus more on individual performance. 

“Team sports definitely give off [the sense that] they’re in lieu of Greek life,” Cristina Young ’22, a track and field member, said. 

Vargas agreed that there is a reason that the College’s athletes are in general associated with partying. “I can’t speak for what happened regarding the Wood party, or even this year,” she said. “But I do know most parties in other years, a lot of them take place on Hoxsey, and a lot of them take place in sports houses. So I think that that pretty much produces that stereotype of ‘athletes like parties’, but I definitely think it differs team to team.” 

At Wood House, this difference in cultures manifested itself. The Record spoke anonymously to a student at the party who told the Record that “the majority of teams [there] were team sports.” The student is a member of a varsity team. 

“A lot of individual sports weren’t there. Swimming, track, cross country, Nordic skiing, tennis… I didn’t see those in large numbers,” they said. “I think there may be more of a pack mentality on team sports.”

But even among team sports, cultures and attitudes towards partying could vary greatly from one team to another, according to Bohacek. “There’s no one culture that can define Williams varsity sports or Williams club sports,” she said.

The generalization that all student-athletes hold the same attitude towards partying could cause a sense of being unfairly accused for athletes uninvolved with the Wood party, according to Emma Tapscott ’22, a runner on cross country. 

“I think as a cross country/track runner it’s been an interesting position because we don’t really have the same partying/frat-like culture of most other teams,” she wrote via email to the Record. “So I think some runners have been frustrated by anti-athlete sentiments, because it feels like we’re being unfairly lumped together … and it’s easy to feel like we have to explain ourselves even though none of us went.” 

Tapscott added that it is still important in the wake of the Wood party to have conversations about the privilege that athletes hold, especially because of the correlation between athletic culture and whiteness and wealth.

“I think taking accountability for that culture should be the focus of the discussion (in a constructive, non-attacking way), even though it’s tempting as a runner to want to focus on how we’re the ‘exception’ and ask people to absolve us,” she said.

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