Response against F&M Athletics Department’s Statement of Racial Injustice in America

By: This response was written by a group of  F&M students independently from any listed or non-listed organization at Franklin & Marshall College. The co-signers of this document did so voluntarily with documented approval.

Photo courtesy of godiplomats.com

“All of us are responsible and accountable.”These are the words that the Franklin & Marshall College Athletic Department used in their official message in response to the police brutality that has been rightfully catapulted to the forefront of the minds, hearts, and souls of millions of Americans. This statement comes to you as a response to this message from students who will not accept it.

In the fall of 2019, a series of photos surfaced showing Franklin & Marshall athletes donning racist Halloween costumes. These “costumes” included multiple stereotypical depictions of Mexican culture, an African dashiki, and an outfit which included an Asian conical hat, a necklace of soy sauce packets, and the individual pulling his eyes in a racist depiction of an Asian individual. These photos were first shared on social media by the students in question- actions they considered defensible and acceptable as members of the athletics department. News of these actions spread through various outlets and were addressed in Inside Higher Ed. Students pushed not only for administrative reform but also for appropriate actions to be taken as a consequence for these players across multiple sports teams. The main request was the benching of players, with a specific focus on the two basketball players involved, as the basketball season was just about to begin. In response to the peaceful protest at the F&M vs York basketball game on November 8, 2019, the Diplomats Basketball page posted the message, “The men’s basketball [game] against York was postponed Friday evening. A makeup date has yet to be determined.” No mention of the reason why there was no game nor an acknowledgment of the situation that was a direct result of their players’ actions. Records show that at least one basketball player who partook in the racist actions received a starting position and played for a significant time in every game of the season. However, this is not another call for their benching. This is a call to hold the Franklin & Marshall Athletics Department accountable for their actions with the reform needed moving forward as it applies to men’s sports, women’s sports, and team management.

As a plan for moving forward, the school presented the students with the Action Tracking Document. (The link to the document can be found at the bottom of this statement and readers are encouraged to read it before continuing.) A majority of the goals identified in the document have been designated as complete or ongoing. Workshops on community building, LGBTQIA, and mental health have all been completed. A Director of Diversity Initiatives has been appointed. There have been walkthroughs of buildings and infographics posted online.  However, there are glaring gaps in this plan of action that separate it from the events which sparked its conception: race. There is not one workshop that directly addresses race and racism. You cannot expect your black and minority athletes to be responsible for educating your white athletes about race. It is an undue burden that allows the administration to put structured programs that directly address race on the backburner. All of these actions also only target the student-athletes in your department. What about training for coaches? When the “conversations” that are happening in “many athletic programs” are seemingly at the discretion of the coaches, where is the accountability for the quality of discussion that is presented to athletes? Why was just the men’s soccer team engaging with Dr. Jennifer Stollman (who was not addressed as a Dr. in the Action Tracking Document unlike Dr. Derek Greenfield, but as this is not a letter about sexism, that can be addressed later) and not every team or, at the very least, the basketball team as well? Why is it “many athletic programs” and not “all athletic programs”? Is it due to a lack of oversight from the department such that you cannot assure there will be workshops for every team? According to the Action Tracking Document, the “Actions” that have “Athletics” as the “Who” are the ones that are left largely uncompleted. Why was the project with Nnenna Akotaobi not designated as “ongoing”? The last edit to the document itself occurred on March 6th, insinuating that the department had not even started that project by Spring Break. What work is being done now? 

Students will hold the athletic department accountable for its actions because we are not certain that you will hold yourself accountable. When Coach Wagner said “I won’t let myself get ripped apart” at the rally on Hartman Green on November 15th, 2019, he concluded his statement by saying that the racist students were “very good” people. Are these the same coaches whom you expect to have complex conversations with their teams about race? We cannot guarantee that he will foster an environment on his team that actively works against racism. We cannot accept the fact that actions of the Action Tracking Document are targeted at students and do not include training at the level of team management. A team will only be as good as its leader. When coaches are allowed to defend racist athletes, they defend an idea that they find excusable in their own team and in their own lives. Dismantling the internal systematic racism is required for these acts of white privilege, specifically the ability to defend racist actions, to be properly checked and corrected.

 Team culture must change in Franklin & Marshall Athletics. Team members must hold each other accountable for their actions, but we cannot expect this to happen organically when the system and culture of the athletics department have allowed racist, sexist, and homophobic actions to go unpunished for years. For the last few years, there have been serious actions taken against fraternities which allowed inexcusable actions to be done to their new members. A war on “hazing” has been waging in this country for decades. Hazing is now illegal, as it aims to destroy the dignity, bodies, and will of those who are disadvantaged in a power dynamic. The Xi chapter of Phi Kappa Tau was charged and suspended for hazing and other offenses in April, only as a result of outside intervention. No member of the organization was going to hold his brothers accountable. Why do you believe sports teams will be any different? There was an investigation into the culture of the fraternity. Where is the investigation into the culture of our sports teams? Systematic racism destroys the dignity, bodies, and will of black and brown communities. It is not enough to have athletes attend workshops, let alone workshops not focused on race and systematic racism, and expect them to speak out against injustices when they are a part of a system that has silenced these claims in the past. There must be an example set forth by the department that is actively anti-racist. We saw injustice in our fraternities. The advising department took action. We saw injustices in our sports teams. The advising department was silent. Why are they treated differently? These patterns are not acceptable. Such patterns show a persistent issue that is not being properly remedied. It shows a lack of concrete actions that promote real change. How are students to believe your call for change in your statement, but have a history of stalling it?

It should be noted that the sudden and unexpected challenges of COVID-19 and the closing of the campus set forth understandable roadblocks for the administration, as their focus shifted to online instruction and the future of the semester. That being said, there is no excuse for the racial issues at Franklin & Marshall to be put on hold only to be reacknowledged when the nation is reminded of the racist and oppressive systems still in place today. There is no excuse for the Athletic Department to broadly comment on national racism when they failed to do so on our home turf. As a campus that advertises student activism as a testament to the “liberal arts education,” all facets of that campus must adhere to the idea that student voices are to be heard and that wrongdoers must be held accountable. 

Franklin & Marshall College’s official Instagram page recently asked followers to share a trait or value that they seek out and embrace in others. Answers included empathy, honesty, and integrity. These qualities, one may argue, converge in zero tolerance for racism﹣another answer given. Students have found the official statement by the Athletics Department lacking in one, or perhaps all, of these traits that we should seek and value not only in our personal lives, but in our communities, our institutions, and our peers, as well. All of us are, in fact, responsible and accountable. But where was the personal accountability when your students asked for it the most? Where was this sentiment when racism occurred in your own department? You say that you cannot be silent now, but why were you silent then? Because the players were the starters or related to the coach? We have not forgotten the grossly inadequate response to racist events in the fall. Your silence then undermines the values that you are vocalizing now. Your black athletes deserve more than that. Your Latinx athletes deserve more than that. Your Asian athletes deserve more than that. They deserve to be defended by a department that they have agreed to represent in the fields and in games across the nation. What they received was a half-hearted attempt to quell the outrage that came from the larger student body and was ultimately handled by the school’s administration, not the athletic department. They received seven sentences in a social media post that came only as a response to national events and was much too late. To echo the words of students who responded directly to the post, where was this response last fall? How will you plan and take action that comes from within the department? Are you with us?

Ways in which the Athletic Department should support BIPOC on campus:

-Make a public statement regarding the racist actions in the fall of 2019;

-Encourage athletes and their families to support and donate to F&M multicultural organizations;

-Revise the Action Tracking Document to assure that men’s and women’s athletic teams are receiving proper racial equity training;

-Require racial equity training for coaches and team management for men’s and women’s teams.   

We write this not only as a response to the official statement but also as a call to action to better our system for all Franklin & Marshall students. We call for justice on behalf of the students that have come before us and will come after us. As members of the Franklin & Marshall family, we have a duty to ourselves and the institution to learn, to question, and to work together to come to a resolution that allows for the constant betterment of ourselves and society. This is just one step in our lifelong journey of education, growth, and understanding of humanity. As President Altmann has reaffirmed, F&M is a place for us to find our voice and to use it. We are using our voices now as agents of change in a time when change is so greatly needed. We are obligated to follow the light and change the law in favor of justice, equity, and integrity.

Respectfully,


African Caribbean Association

Asian American Alliance

Black Student Union

BoyBand Magazine

Choom Chu (Choomies)

Club Volleyball

Colleges Against Cancer

Dips Upside Down

F&M Dance Company

F&M Dance Team

F&M Frisbee Team

I.M.P.A.C.T.

Kite & Keys A Cappella Group

Mi Gente Latina

Phi Sigma Pi National Honors Fraternity

Poor Richards A Cappella Group

S.I.S.T.E.R.S.

Sexuality And Gender Alliance

The F&M College Associate Chapter of Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority, Inc.

WFNM

Women’s Track and Field Team

Concerned members of the Franklin & Marshall community

Members of Bonchek Congress

Members of New College House Senate

Members of Weis College House Assembly of Peers

Students of Hillel

Women and Men involved in Rowing

25 members of Chi Omega Sorority

70 members of Alpha Xi Delta Sorority

53 members of Kappa Delta Sorority

47 members of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority

Link to Action Tracking Document:

Outdated Version: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16yh2hYhtR07UmWax1qtZdg36KxHgcphomCaamWY58Dc/edit

Updated Version:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-Fys5uz1m3ENlK1-o9pQIyqgueoM0MKnGCWRN1U8BLU/edit#gid=886264456

Correction: The original version of this piece included only the outdated version of the action tracking document which was found on the DEI website by the authors of the piece. The Updated version of the document is now included as well.

Correction: The original version of this piece contained the sentence: “You cannot hold a single Super Bowl watch party and expect the racism in your department to be gone.” This assertion was formed from the fact that the Outdated Action Tracking Document listed one of the hosts of the event as student athletes, resulting in confusion. This sentence has since been omitted as the Athletic Department did not host the party. The party was organized hosted by other student groups such as Diplomatic Christian Fellowship and IMPACT. Instead, the Athletic Department only provided some funding to help host the event upon request.

If you have any questions or concerns about this piece please contact reporter@fandm.edu.

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