Letter to the Editor
Issue   |   Wed, 02/20/2013 - 00:57

Suzanne Coffey, Amherst’s Director of Athletics, writes in response to “Elephant in the Room” in support of the College’s student-athletes.

I’m disappointed that a tenured professor at Amherst College would write in broad prejudiced strokes about our students. His speech is deliberately hurtful, and frankly sad. Substitute a different other group — based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual preference — for athlete and most of us wouldn’t tolerate his outbursts.

Either Mr. Dumm doesn’t know anything about our students who play sports at Amherst, or if he does, he chooses to ignore any facts that might impede his vituperative attack. The student-athletes I know are headed for graduate school, medical school, law school and Teach for America. They are campus and community leaders, accomplished athletes, musicians, actors and writers whose talents are recognized on and off campus. Our athletes support children with brain tumors through the Friends of Jaclyn; they’ve raised money for cancer research, and they tutor children at the W.E.B. DuBois Academy in Springfield. In fact 100 percent of our varsity teams participate in community outreach. It’s a value that we believe teaches humility and a better understanding for the world we live in. Our student-athletes spend countless hours engaged — which it seems is just what we want to foster at Amherst. Most of them are connected citizens who care deeply about their classmates, their college and their community. They are mentored by hard-working coaches who every day do their best to fulfill our mission and help the College educate “men and women of exceptional potential from all backgrounds so that they may seek, value, and advance knowledge, engage the world around them, and lead principled lives of consequence.”

Are student-athletes perfect? No, they are not. Who is? Do they get into trouble? Occasionally, yes. Are they more to blame for the problems we are finally facing on campus? No, they are not.

Student-athletes, like most other students on this campus, lead complicated lives. What they share in common is the intensity required of dedicated students at one of the most academically rigorous institutions in the land.

Our athletes do indeed succeed in the classroom, including in Professor Dumm’s classroom. Amherst athletes best our NESCAC competitors each season with academic all-conference honors. At Amherst, academics always come first. That’s evidenced by the grades earned by athletes in courses taught by Professor Dumm. Students share their grades with their coaches, so we know that the very student-athletes the professor most vilifies earn some of the best grades in Dumm’s classes. We work hard in Athletics to teach our students that every voice counts that every challenge is to be met head-on and taking a course with a professor who loudly voices his disdain for those things that are also important to our students should not deter them from learning more about him and what he has to offer. Too bad this isn’t a two way street.

Anonymous '13 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 01:58

"The student-athletes I know are headed for graduate school, medical school, law school and Teach for America. They are campus and community leaders, accomplished athletes, musicians, actors and writers whose talents are recognized on and off campus. "

Can we please quit the self-congratulation. Some student-athletes also happen to be rapists and we need to better address this fact.

Anonymous '14 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 14:46

Some non-athletes also happen to be rapists, and we need to better address the fact that rapists infiltrate all facets of the Amherst community.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 10:16

Some non-athletes happen to be rapists as well. You clearly were picked last in kick-ball throughout your school years and have a personal vendetta against athletes.

Isabelle (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 10:48

There is a common myth about rapists, that they are bad people. That if you see one walking down the street, you would just intuitively be able to identify that person as a rapist. But sadly this is not true. People who are doctors, politicians, lawyers, peace corps volunteers--they can still be rapists. Students held in high esteem by professors, employers, friends, etc., still rape. Just like we all--no matter how nice we are or how many good acts we do--still are often complicit in perpetuating rape myths and culture.

This is a straw man fallacy. Not Professor Dumm nor anyone, I would argue, is attacking the character and achievements of athletes. These students are our friends and peers as well, and his argument as well as other charges to look at connections between sexual assault and sports teams are not meant to attack individuals or incriminate our friends, students, and peers on the basis of their membership to a group. By basing your argument on this assumption, you are essentially arguing against something that no one is arguing for.

Please, PLEASE do not conflate being a good person and not being a rapist. It plays into myths like "I'm sure my friend didn't rape her--he's a nice guy" or a more victim-blamey "you should have known he/the situation was dangerous." Rape culture and the reasons why rapists rape is much more complicated than whether or not someone succeeds in the classroom or volunteers while at Amherst.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 18:00

Thank you, now I know there are rapists at Amherst College! Ms. Coffey, in case you didn't know, rapists are medical students, graduate students, campus and community leaders, accomplished athletes, actors, musicians, writers, and connected citizens. Stop boasting about your over achieving athletes and students and recognize that rapists don't wear a capital R. And you're head of the Title IX committee? This is worrisome in so many ways. A sexual misconduct disciplinary committee needs to recognize that rapists come in many forms including accomplished musicians, writers, campus leaders, tutors, fundraisers, and, sadly, even athletes who support children with brain tumors. Have we already forgotten lessons learned from Jerry Sandusky?

'14 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 18:56

--""Substitute a different other group — based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual preference — for athlete and most of us wouldn’t tolerate his outbursts"

You mean, if you had said BLACK people? Or MUSLIM people? Or GAY people? Don't worry, other commentators have already brought this up. There are many problems with this.

1.) There are black athletes on this campus of both sexes. How exactly does your example stand up now?

2.) There are also Muslim athletes on this campus. There might even been black, Muslim, gay athletes on this campus. I see your argument disappearing, and it's only the first paragraph.

3.) Last time I checked, BLACK people (and other "ethnicities" to use your word) were not aliens. They are humans just like everyone else. Therefore, the fact that you are considering athletes some kind of group that is separate from race, gender, class, and whatever else suggests to me that you may not be qualified for your job, because you just don't get it.

You do the student athlete a disservice by otherizing them, and in the same breath confirming the impressions many on this campus do have about athletes: that student athletes participate in an exclusive sub-culture that appears to have many problems.

Anon (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/20/2013 - 20:49

Yes it is and Amherst is fortunate to have Ms. Coffey. While you dismiss her abilities in a post that I cannot comprehend, others with much experience in higher education recognize and honor her remarkable abilities:

Matt (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/21/2013 - 00:00

Miss Coffey, your article misses the point entirely. The topic at hand is not attacking individuals as a group, but attacking a culture that is almost undeniably strengthened by the athletic culture of college and university campuses all across the nation. You defend your student-athletes when they are not even being directly offended.

Culture is a complex issue to discuss because it is both a product of individual actions and group mentality. Criticizing it always appears to be a direct assault on individuals, but this is not actually the case. It's a subtle difference, but understanding it will save you the trouble of writing articles like this that sidestep the issue at hand.

'14 (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/22/2013 - 11:20

Ms. Coffey -
1. Do you know what rape is, what it looks like, what it feels like, that's it's a CRIME? Your language suggests that you do not. Exerting power and control over someone else's bodily autonomy is simply not akin to casually "get[ting] into trouble".
2. Do you realize that rapists are human? That they do in fact lead "complicated lives"? They are smart, athletic, charismatic, do community service, work on Wall Street, go to med school, obtain law degrees. The majority are not sociopaths hiding out in the bushes. Your tacit endorsement of stranger-in-the-bushes rape mythology is frightening, especially given your position of authority in determining Title IX-related policy at the College.

Anon (not verified) says:
Fri, 02/22/2013 - 22:24

1. Professor Dumm publishes an article in which he argues that maybe, just maybe, the SMOC committee should have looked at the question of whether there is a correlation of athletic culture and rape culture on the Amherst College campus.
2. Athletic Director Coffey publishes a defense of athletic culture on Amherst College campus, in which the central argument is, in effect, that "Amherst College athletes are not rapists, they're nice guys, leaders, upstanding citizens, etc." This false dichotomy is itself a well known rape myth, as many previous posters have pointed out.
3. Wrap your mind around that for a second: the athletic director's own defense of athletic culture itself relies upon a well known rape myth. In other words: the athletic director's letter includes within itself the very thing the athletic director's letter says is absent from athletic culture at Amherst.
4. Coffey sat on the SMOC Committee that early on made a "philosophic decision" not to study the connection between rape culture and athletic culture. This committee claims to have done an in-depth study of this question as part of their decision not to study it. No evidence of that study has been released, either in the report or in the ensuing controversy.
5. Professor Dumm has been treated rudely, been called many names, etc. But Coffey's article shows that Dumm was right. Rape myths are alive and well in Amherst College athletics -- starting at the top.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 20:38

As an alum, an athlete, and a rape survivor, I am appalled by this letter. While I do not know that I agree with all of Professor Dumm's points, Suzanne Coffey's letter shows a complete lack of understanding of the issues at hand. As a previous poster stated, Coffey is perpetuating the rapist hiding in the bush myth. The guy who raped me graduated from Amherst and has a solid job and many friends. Does that mean he cannot have raped me?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 21:08

This is a remarkably poor editorial, and misses the point completely. How in the world is this woman the Title IX Coordinator? This only serves to strengthen the idea that athletes are untouchable, and that by raising questions about the impact of athlete culture on things like misogyny, LGBT issues, etc. we are committing an evil akin to that of singling out minority groups for things we don't like. THIS, from the woman that we are supposedly required to report sexual assault to? Outrageous. Where is the petition?

NARP '15 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 22:31

To "Anon (not verified) says: Wed, 02/20/2013 - 20:49", way to take the Suzanne Coffey approach and ignore the fallacies of what she said/did by pointing out her awards and accomplishments.

Lorena '13 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 22:32

Ms. Coffey, I am embarrassed for you.