Administration Investigates Men's Cross Country Team After Reveal of Sexually Explicit and Derogatory Team Emails
Issue   |   Tue, 12/13/2016 - 14:17
Photo courtesy of the Amherst College website
Emails exchanged between members of the men's cross country team were quoted in an article by The Indicator, a student-run magazine, on Sunday, Dec. 11. The emails contained derogatory comments about female students and incited a condemnation from President Biddy Martin.

President Biddy Martin’s office sent an email to faculty and students with statements from Athletic Director Don Faulstick and Martin on Sunday, Dec. 11 in response to a recent article published on the website of The Indicator, a student-run magazine at the college. The authors of the article reported on emails exchanged between members of the men’s cross country team that contained derogatory comments about female students.

The original article included the text of multiple emails exchanged between members of the men’s cross country team between 2013 and 2015, which contained comments about specific women — such as the labels “meat slab” and “walking STD” — as well as women at the college in general. The authors also described a list that the members maintained in 2015 which included photographs and sexually explicit descriptions and sexual comments about eight women. Several of these email communications were directed to students who were new recruits at the time, welcoming them to the college and the men’s cross country team.

In addition, comments that were racist in nature and dismissive of sexual assault were published. According to the emails, some team members had characterized these comments as “inside jokes,” urging others not to take them seriously. The article did not reference a source for the emails, but Martin confirmed their authenticity in a separate email interview.

Smith College senior Helen Mayer and Amherst seniors Sam Wohlforth and Daniel Ahn, the authors of the original article, also wrote a follow-up editorial in which they condemned the team’s actions and called for an examination of athletic spaces. They also placed their article in the context of similar emails by men’s athletic teams at Harvard and Columbia that were recently revealed. Wohlforth is a former member of the Amherst men's cross country team.

The behavior and attitude of the implicated athletes, Martin said, “flagrantly violates Amherst’s principles and the most basic forms of decency and respect.”

Faulstick called the chain of emails “racist, misogynist and homophobic” and said they have “no place on our sports teams or anywhere at our college.” Martin also denounced the exchanges, saying that “no attempt to rationalize them will change that. My reaction is one of profound sadness, disappointment and anger.” According to Martin, an investigation is currently taking place. Meanwhile, the men’s cross country team has been suspended from all team activities.

Martin sent an email update on Monday evening to announce the college’s hiring of Justice John M. Greaney to “investigate reports regarding the men’s cross country team” starting on Tuesday. Greaney is a former associate justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. His findings will inform the college’s future disciplinary decisions for the team.

In the email, Martin also urged anyone with relevant information to submit an online report — including anonymous reports — and said that she would continue providing students, staff and faculty with updates on the investigation.

“There is no predisposition as to what form or shape the investigation will take,” said Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Norm Jones.

In an email interview, Title IX Coordinator Laurie Frankl said, “I am disheartened, sad, and frustrated whenever I learn that one or more members of this community have been subjected to disrespectful words or actions. As the Title IX coordinator, and as a person deeply committed to gender equity, the comments about women are particularly hard to see.” She added that she has been involved with and will continue to coordinate with the investigation and any potential actions the administration takes after the investigation is finished.

Faulstick was also contacted for comment on this incident but did not respond by press time.

On Monday, The Indicator published a statement from the men’s cross country team in response to the article. In the statement, the team apologized to the entire Amherst community for the contents of their email chain.

“There are no words to justify what was said,” they wrote, “and we are all responsible for the harm inflicted by our team’s comments.” According to the statement, the team is in the process of meeting with “the specific groups who were directly impacted by the email contents,” along with the athletic department and other resource groups on campus.

The article has garnered significant attention from students and was widely shared on social media. By Monday morning, posters with the words “Women are not your meat” were posted in buildings across campus. The incident has also gained traction in the national conversation, having been covered by major media outlets including The Boston Globe, Washington Post, Buzzfeed News and Fox News.

Jingwen Zhang ’18 and Lauren Tuiskula ’17 contributed reporting for this article.

This article was last updated at 9:36 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 13

Curious/concern... (not verified) says:
Tue, 12/13/2016 - 16:02

This has been on my mind for the past few days - am I the only one here who thinks that Sam Wohlforth is just as much implicated, and just as much guilty, in all of this (given that he was a member of the team at the time) as everyone else who was/is on the team? If it comes out that he said derogatory things in his emails, he shouldn't get a free pass just because he reported this, since he is just as guilty as the rest of them for making derogatory remarks. Also, what does the college plan to do about all of the alums on the email chain? What's the sense of reprimanding current members of the team, who may not have participated in this culture, if they didn't do anything when the alums were at fault? And why is the college giving a pass to Don Faulstick and Suzanne Coffey when this was happening under their noses the entire time?? To me, we should be more focused on investigating the toxic culture of *all* athletic teams, both men and women, instead of going on this witch hunt to see which members of the cross country team are most or least guilty of participating in a culture that is prevalent among all Amherst teams and implicitly encouraged by the school's administration due to their failure to act against or prevent this sort of behavior in the first place.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/14/2016 - 10:04

How were Don Faulstick and Suzanne Coffey to know what these students were e-mailing each other, should they be screening all athlete's correspondence? If you are going to go after the AD's why not throw the coach in there and the IT department and the dean of students

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 12/16/2016 - 14:13

The coach is definitely involved in this, as are Don and Suzanne. By not doing anything even to prevent such a culture (workshops, trainings, etc), they implicitly allowed/encouraged it to occur. This goes on with all teams and athletics should've had programming that would've prevented such behavior. I'd be shocked if Athletics didn't think that any of this was going on since we all know that it goes on with multiple teams and is very widespread. So much for creating an inclusive/safe culture where every place is a safe space and where we can treat everyone with respect! Maybe now they'll reevaluate LEADS so that it isn't a huge joke anymore

Alum (not verified) says:
Wed, 12/14/2016 - 11:41

"Martin also urged anyone with relevant information to submit an online report — including anonymous reports" Alums did not get any direction on where we could submit such information. Inquiring minds would like to know.

Alum (not verified) says:
Thu, 12/15/2016 - 18:42

You can email President Martin at the above.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 12/16/2016 - 10:32

The college should publicly disclose all costs associated with this investigation (I'm assuming this supreme court justice isn't cheap). X-country team should foot this legal bill, not tuition-payers.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Mon, 12/19/2016 - 22:11

It's the college's responsibility that it cultivated this culture on the athletic teams, and therefore the college must own up to its mistakes about letting this culture thrive and thus the college should foot the bill. Besides, this whole investigation is a waste of time, since it's not going to find out anything that their classmates wouldn't be able to tell the school.

really? (not verified) says:
Tue, 12/20/2016 - 11:57

I don't think the college is going to send you an invoice. Relax.