This past weekend, Vassar College’s Campus Life Resource Group sponsored a dialogue entitled “Who Really Plays for Team Vassar?: A Gathering of Athletes, Non Athletes, and those who exist In-Between.” Sophomore Alejandro McGhee and senior women’s rugby player Dallas Robinson spearheaded the formation of the discussion. Robinson was unable to make it to the Jade Parlor this Saturday, but McGhee led the discussion along with senior and former men’s tennis player Wilson Platt.
The discussion took place over the course of an hour and a half. The first portion involved a reminder to maintain civil and appropriate discourse. The group then broke into smaller groups of two, and partners introduced themselves to one another. The small groups focused on learning about each individual person based upon passions, interests and general life paths. Each individual then introduced their partner to the group. The group then broke up based on whether or not one identified as an athlete. Platt led the group of athletes that included two women’s rugby players, two men’s soccer players, two field hockey players and himself. The small groups that were at the panel discussed their experiences at Vassar before reconvening as a whole to discuss each small group session.
Men’s soccer attendee and Cushing Student Fellow sophomore Ben Glasner found the discussion incredibly beneficial in opening up the campus dialogue and his own perspectives. In an emailed statement, he said, “I think it was a very successful discussion in that it allowed for one to happen, which has been a step we haven’t seen happening on campus. Not only that but many very solid points of view were brought up throughout the talk, which allowed for growth in understanding others perspectives, be those Varsity athletes, club athletes, ex-athletes or those who do not participate in the athlete community at all.”
Glasner’s teammate, junior sociology major Andre Cousineau, agreed with the overall success of the dialogue that happened over this past weekend. “I felt that the discussion was a success because people actually attended and made important contributions to the dialogue, whether it be as athletes or non-athletes. I wanted to see a free flowing of opinions, challenging questions and constructive dialogue about our respective relations to other students as athletes and non-athletes. I felt the discussion went very well. We talked about self-presentations, stereotypes, reputations, spatial occupation/awareness of both groups and our respective experiences on campus about said topics.”
One of the topics brought up in the discussion compared Athletics to Drama. A point of discussion revolved around the various locations of the two spheres and their lack of intersection. Student-Athletes brought up their frustrations that trying to have fans and even friends attend their games seemed futile. However, non-athlete students and other athletes as well noticed a tendency of student-athletes to isolate themselves at times. One theory for this proposed was based on the physical locations of various events.
Cousineau summarized the main points of the location discussion from the panel held over the weekend in explaining the physical isolation of athletics as opposed to other parts of campus life. “Something of note that I witnessed here is the location of athletics facilities at the extremities of campus, and not being in the ‘public eye’ of Vassar. This establishes athletic teams as members of the periphery in regard to the social world of Vassar. As a result, social relationships, the use (or non-use) of specific spaces and how we relate within said spaces remain constant; for example, the preponderance of athletes who live in the TH’s for proximity to facilities and as a comfortable space to live/socialize on campus. Also, there tends to a lack of willingness to attend non-athletic events, like plays, comedy shows, etc, though I have seen changes this year.”
Another main point of discussion was weekend culture and how often times non-athletes felt that student-athlete parties were at times uncomfortable spaces for them to be. There was a general consensus between the student-athletes that discomfort had never been their intention and that many of them had never considered an opposing point of view. Again, the location factor seemed to come into play, as the whole group discussed how most students rarely ventured to the furthest parts of campus except for social gatherings.
Cousineau echoed these remarks. “The few times a majority of non-athletes venture to the west/east part of campus (TH’s/TA’s), it is for the weekend culture, not to witness athletic events. Here, many non-athletes view athletes as one-dimensional party animals, for the social scene acts as the only dimension available as a lens of observation.”
A third important topic raised in the discussion was the fellow group system especially for fall season athletes. Despite a new system in place allowing for all first years to participate in fellow group events, the group decided there still tended to be a divide at times. Being a fall student-athlete as a freshman seemed to be particularly isolating in both directions. More inclusivity and openness both ways seemed to be the best answer anyone had to solving the isolation problem for athletes and non-athletes.
Glasner had hoped to hear some differing views that he did not generally hear around campus.
“I was really just hoping to hear a point of view regarding the topic from someone not directly involved in a sport on campus, it is not often I hear non-athletes even consider it.”
The conversation remained productive with individuals who have had different experiences with athletics expressing their points of view. All members of the group contributed and helped to further the discussion by sharing their various experiences, whether they were current or former athletes or had no connection to athletics at all.
In the end, Cousineau had this to say about the experience as a whole: “I felt the event was successful. I wish that there were more people, but I’m sure we will have more discussions and more people attending over time. We do have mutual respect for each other, though such feelings do not manifest themselves within the Vassar public often. But whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, we, as a campus, admire each other for all that we bring to the table. We all play for team Vassar.”