November 29, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Looking in the Locker Room Mirror

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To the Editor:

Over the past few weeks, several of our fellow Ivy League athletics teams made headlines for engaging in some appalling actions. The Harvard Men’s Soccer and Men’s Cross Country teams both created spreadsheets to assess the physical attractiveness and sexual appeal of their female student-athlete counterparts and freshmen recruits. These “scouting reports” contained degrading, sexually explicit language about these women, many of whom were their friends. At Columbia, the Men’s Wrestling team is currently under investigation for racially and sexually explicit group messages.

As captains and leaders of varsity athletics teams at Cornell, we are deeply disappointed by these acts. At the same time, we recognize that more likely than not, similar language has been used within the Cornell Athletics community. We are not naive enough to believe that no Cornell student-athletes have ever used inappropriate language to marginalize and demean others or even acted on such language. That kind of rhetoric is completely unacceptable. Simply excusing such statements as “locker room talk” or ignoring them only makes the problem worse.

Being a student-athlete at Cornell is an incredible privilege that we do not take lightly. Along with our teammates, we are proud to serve as prominent representatives and ambassadors of this great university. However, with this privilege comes tremendous responsibility. In addition to working to bring home Ivy League championships, we must also strive to always be a positive influence and representative of Cornell. This goal extends far beyond the field, court, or rink to the classroom, dining halls, dormitories, Collegetown and the broader Ithaca community.

We are a diverse family with a wide variety of life experiences, beliefs and worldviews. Although it can be challenging to navigate that diversity, it is ultimately a significant part of what makes Cornell and the student-athlete experience, so special. Through our exposure to people different than ourselves, we become better individuals and prepare ourselves for a future beyond Cornell.

While the topics of sexism, racism, homophobia and misogyny can lend themselves to difficult and uncomfortable conversations, we must have these discussions in order to make our communities and our world more respectful, dignified and just. These conversations become easier by fostering open communication within our close-knit communities. From personal experiences as captains and leaders, we have found ways to be proactive and intervene to dissuade this type of language and inappropriate behavior on our own teams.  We are able to hold each other accountable, whether in one-on-one conversations or general discussions with our coaches and teammates. Intervening in this way allows us to learn and grow from one another so we can prevent the inappropriate language and behavior that let our teams, family and university down. We perform best when we support each other and deconstruct stereotypes through a culture of inclusion and affirmation.

We are proud to stand with the members of the Harvard Women’s Soccer team who wrote their own response to the scouting reports. We agree that the kind of sexist, culturally insensitive and derogatory language used to describe them must be de-normalized, not only within our teams and communities but also within “the locker room that is our world.” We cannot be silent bystanders —we must instead address these issues, which have historically been ingrained and tolerated in our culture and society, head-on. Ultimately, we recognize that this problem is not perpetuated by just one person, team, or university, but we do know that our individual actions can lead to greater change when we work together to make Cornell a safe and caring community.

We call on all varsity captains and student-athletes to directly confront and combat these issues, first within our individual teams, and then the Cornell community and college campuses nationwide. We encourage the discussion of what happened at Harvard and Columbia, as well as continuous dialogues regarding sexism, racism, homophobia and misogyny more generally. We urge every individual, regardless of their affiliation on campus, to speak up if or when they hear this kind of language being used. As Cornellians, we understand the need to make Cornell Athletics an inclusive environment for all as we strive to be a positive influence in all that we do. Moving forward, we will work to facilitate conversations about these issues amongst our teams and more broadly within the athletics community.

We are incredibly honored to be able to represent Cornell in our respective sports and we will continue to strive for academic, athletic and personal excellence to the best of our abilities.

Go Big Red.

Jackson Weber ’17, football
Krystin Chiellini ’17, gymnastics
Marshall Peters ’17, men’s lacrosse
Miles Norris, ’17, football
Grace Tucker ’17, women’s rowing
Kaitlin Doering ’17, women’s ice hockey
Jeff Kubiak ’17, men’s ice hockey
Ellie Crowell ’17, women’s soccer