Beyond Reflexive Denial
Issue   |   Wed, 02/27/2013 - 18:51

I’d like to offer a few observations about the recent articles in The Amherst Student about the link between playing team sports and committing acts of sexual violence.

First: let’s keep our eyes on the ball. The problem, which everyone should care about, is how to respond to the strikingly high levels of sexual violence at Amherst. A hypothesis that has been a part of academic studies of sexual violence on American college campuses for over three decades is that there is a correlation between male team-sport cultures and sexual violence. Is it proven? No. Should it be considered? Yes. And the reason why it should be considered is that the problem is so serious. Everyone associated with Amherst should be prioritizing the effort to figure out what might be contributing to it. (Anyone who believes that it is not a serious problem needs to learn more about it.)

Second: it is possible to love sports (as I do) and hate sexual violence, whether physically enacted or verbally projected (as I do). It is not necessarily the case that there is a link between male team-sport participation and sexual violence at Amherst. But maybe there is. And if there is, if male team-sport participation does indeed foster an atmosphere that is a contributing factor in cases of sexual violence at Amherst, then I want to do something about it. So, I imagine, would anyone else who simultaneously values team sports and human dignity. (Maybe there should be a “Team Sports and Human Dignity” campus organization. I would like to believe that it would be large.)

Third: one of the best aspects of team sports is that they can teach you how to subordinate your individual interests to — or meld them with — the aims of the whole. It would be great if some of the male participants in team sports at Amherst would step forward and argue for exactly that kind of decent self-subordination in relation to the college as a whole—if they would say something like, “Because I love playing on a team and hate sexual violence, I want to find out if any aspect of team-sport culture at Amherst is contributing to the likelihood of sexual violence. If it turns out that some aspect of team-sport culture is indeed contributing to that likelihood, I want to do everything I can to eradicate it.”

Fourth: belonging to a team is not the same thing as belonging a social group that has been discriminated against and oppressed. This is so obvious that I hesitate to bring it up, but the many of the attacks on Professor Dumm in The Amherst Student — several of which criticize his analytical powers — fail to make this obvious analytical distinction and give it the weight that it deserves.

Finally, and just to be clear: I don’t hate athletes. I am — or was — an athlete myself. The athletes that I’ve had in my classes have been wonderful students. Team sports really are capable of building character. But I know from playing basketball in high school, traveling with the Stanford football team as a student beat reporter, and being a life-long basketball, baseball, and football fan that certain aspects of male team-sport culture are worth questioning, especially in relation to the way in which they condition behavior towards women. I think a lot of other people who are involved in this debate know this too, and it would be nice if it could be a starting point for our collective discussions, as opposed to being something that is reflexively denied.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 20:48

Thank you.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 21:16

Well said, and very reasonable. People should read this.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 21:18

I love my friends who are athletes here at Amherst, which is why I felt I couldn't tell them that while Dumm's article was shoddy and clumsy, the idea that the male athletic culture here might in at least SOME way be linked to sexual assault is at least worth contemplating. Thank you for articulating my thoughts.

Obsever (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 22:30

From the rampant stereotyping of athletes that has appeared on the pages of The Amherst Student it certainly appears to me that athletes at Amherst are a social group that is presently being discriminated against.

2012 Alum (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 23:14

Perhaps presently because of Prof. Dumm's poorly-written article, but in general athletes seem to hold a position of privilege at Amherst (from the experience of someone who was not an athlete). Attempting to delve into a stereotype about a privileged group hardly allows for drawing a comparison between athletes and [insert underprivileged minority here], as many people have been doing.

NARP '15 (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 23:07

Observer, I don't think that half a dozen comments with ignorant stereotypes of the athletes on campus qualify the athletes on campus as a discriminated or oppressed group.

Student (not verified) says:
Wed, 02/27/2013 - 23:54

Thank you, Professor Sanborn, for your valuable contribution to this discussion. I have been feeling quite discouraged by the barrage of defensiveness and finger-pointing that has been going on around campus since Professor Dumm's article was published, but I am relieved to see that he has support among the faculty.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 00:13

Thank you for this wonderfully clear and articulate post!

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 00:31

I have yet to see a single comment that actually maligns any athlete, or suggests that being an athlete equals being a rapist (which some responses against professor Dumm's article has set up as a straw man to attack) . Every commentary I have read so far makes at most the simple suggestion, which Professor Sanborn here has so clearly articulated, that the possibility of a correlation exists--a possibility. Even if a few of these opinions insinuate a connection that is more than possible, perhaps probable, it does not evince in any way whatsoever an oppressive atmosphere targeted against athletes. In any case, that people hold the perhaps erroneous stereotypes about athletes is not helped by the fact that mere discussions of it are suppressed by the outrage and fervor surrounding Professor Dumm's article, which is admittedly biased. But only an open and honest discussion can have the potential to eradicate stereotypes and bias that many, many on campus hold, students as well as professors. The reluctancy of the athletic community, or at least those who have spoken out so far, to openly contemplate, and to seek to discover if there is in fact something wrong with the athletic culture, only serves to preclude the possibility of the true state of things being ever uncovered, and along with that, the possibility of these misconceptions being debunked. The refusal of the committee, and the broader community in general, to even touch this subject out of fear of perpetuating a stereotype in fact serves to allow the stereotype to continue.

Alumni (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/28/2013 - 12:07

Thank you!

Alum (not verified) says:
Sat, 03/09/2013 - 13:54


Alum (not verified) says:
Sat, 03/09/2013 - 15:08

The reactions I read were not cases of reflexive denial but arguments that Professor Dumm was wrong because despite Dumm's claims, the committee had in fact looked at the issue of athletics and actually had conducted the interviews Prfessor Dumm referred to. I read expressions of concern that Professor Dumm's opinion was biased, as well as statements taking offense that Professor Dumm did not contact the committee or carefully read its report. There were appeals that the discusion remain focused on the committee's recommendations rather than engaging, as Tom Dumm did, in stereotyping and divisive behavior. I also read a series of examinations of the quality of Professor Dumm's academic research. Many were offended that Tom Dumm hijacked the issue of sexual misconduct to provide a platform for his anti-athletic views, while others took offense at his lack of respect for the members of the Committee.. There also were several comments about his lack of understanding of alumni giving and of the lack of any conspiracy around athletics. Finally, many pointed out that the committee did recommend a closer look at the culture and community at Amherst. As a result, I did not find most of these comments and opinions to be anything close to reflexive denial, since they made very legitimate points in a thoughtful and reasoned way about why Tom Dumm's opinion was offensive. I did not read or hear anyone arguing that athletes or athletics should be excluded or exempt from review or follow up from the committee's recommendations, just that the committee concluded that atheltics did not need to be singled out. Athletes may not have suffered the discrimination and bias that historically many racial, ethnic and religious groups have suffered, but bias and stereotyping is not acceptable behavior just because it is present to a lesser degree or when practiced in less severe or damaging fashion. There are many instances of bias against athletes in the classrooms at Amherst, some blatant and some more subtle. Athletes learn which professors to avoid, and how to dress and act around certain members of the faculty. The Amherst adminstration is aware of several specific cases of bias agaist athletes in the classroom and has chosen not to take action, in part due to a concern for faculty reaction. Faculty oppostion and adverse reaction also has prevented the adoption of a meaningful policy on sexual relations between faculty members and students, despite the long standing heightened concern for the potential for sexual harassment and sexual misconduct present in relationships of power, in relationships of subornate and superior. The laws of the workforce presume the supervisory and senior-junior relationship present in these unequal positions provides too many chances for misconduct, and yet Amherst professors, perhaps in reflexive denial, continue to resist any restrictions.

Alum (not verified) says:
Tue, 03/12/2013 - 21:34

why does that comment above discuss student-teacher relationships like that's even remotely relevant? is that comment above titled "where is reflexive title" posted by margaret hunt or one of the other corrupt members of the committee on misconduct?
thank you to the author of the original post!!