I heard a racial slur in my dorm hall—What now?

Courtesy of Seowon Back '24.

A few weeks ago, I had a heated argument with the athletes down the hall about their volume, and after they did not quiet down, I filed a noise complaint. Security came, asked them to be considerate of their neighbors, and left. Later that night, I heard them angrily pacing the hall and shouting an anti-Asian slur, and I knew that they meant for me to hear it. 

I have since moved out of that room. This is the end of the story for me. I am happily removed from racists and I can finish the semester in peace.

But for Vassar athletes—what now? 

Before my living situation this year, I was rather unexposed to the athletic world at Vassar, and everyone I knew was equally clueless about sports here. Practically none in my circle were athletes. We didn’t know when the seasons were for any sport, much less what the scoreboards read. Vassar is a Division III liberal arts college, so it seemed like it was just the order of things for regular Vassar students to go about their lives rolling their eyes at the cliques of athletes in the Deece (at least in the pre-COVID days) and carrying on with their days. 

I was perfectly content with the separation of regular students and athletes, until the moment I heard that slur. I was shaking with anger. These pockets of institutionally-backed, generally white and wealthy spaces somehow allowed these athletes to think it was not only okay, but justified, for them to yell racial slurs down a hall of where maybe 20 people live, because they were upset at me for calling security on them. 

You can tell me to be angry at the individuals, but I am also angry at a culture that empowered their actions. These four athletes are on the same team and live together, and if this is what they do together, I don’t believe for a second that they act differently when they’re around their team. You can tell me to be mad at one team, but it is also true that every Title IX sexual assault case I know is against a male athlete attached to different teams. Yes, this is all athletes, either a part of the toxicity or complicit, turning a blind eye. How did we reach a point where anyone could feel entitled to act in such ways?

I am not here to name names or call to abolish whichever private-school sport hurt me, and it is not surprising that I’m pointing out that athletics at Vassar is generally a physically, socioeconomically and racially exclusive space. What has changed is that I am no longer okay with the division of athletes and non-athletes, and I as well as everyone else on this campus need athletes to become self-aware. It is the bare minimum.

I get it, athletes are a different crowd. You spend up to 20 hours a week at practice with your team, you love your sport, you travel together, compete and you feel like family. You cannot imagine your life without this sport, this team, or this lifestyle. Naturally your circle is mostly composed of athletes. You party on the weekends (or weekdays) and think you’re having the time of your life. Even better, you get privileges as an athlete. Admin will let you go off campus during a time when regular students have only ever seen five other pod member faces maskless the whole semester. It sounds almost ideal. Your priorities at Vassar are different than to someone like me.

Yet the lack of responsibility that athletes take for their athlete culture is so not ideal for everyone else. You think it is not your fault that Vassar recruits predominantly white athletes, and you think it is not your fault that athletes happen to be mostly wealthy. You think it is not your fault that you happen to get along with other athletes better than everyone else, and boom, you have yourself a physically, socioeconomically and racially exclusive space. Soon, you start thinking it is okay to shout racial slurs down your hall, because how dare that Asian girl ruin your Saturday night? You only get one Saturday night a week! You are unable to see or understand people who have different priorities at Vassar, and it all breaks down. This is why we need you to become self-aware for this community.

In itself, it is not harmful that you don’t include me. It is harmful that by excluding me, you start thinking I am less than you.

I also want to point out that there are pockets of white friend groups and white spaces on this campus that mimic this on a smaller scale. Again, I hope you become aware of who you’re excluding and why it’s harmful. 

If you think this piece does not represent you as a white athlete, prove me wrong. Demand more diversity on your teams. Pressure your coaches to change the recruitment process. Hang out with regular students with different priorities, backgrounds and skin colors than you and show them respect. Hold your teammates accountable. Call them out. Let the whole world know that you and your team do not think it is okay to treat women and minorities as anything less than equal, and mean it. If Vassar athletics is unable to diversify their recruitments and if your coaches or teammates are unable to treat all others with respect, ask yourself the difficult question: Do I value this sport more than I value treating people fairly? If not, quit and stop being complicit in their toxic culture. Athletes do not get to take up more space and still be destructive to others (including other athletes) at Vassar. Period.

And that would be a first step in the right direction.

3 Comments

  1. “In itself, it is not harmful that you don’t include me. It is harmful that by excluding me, you start thinking I am less than you.”

    Power!

  2. “ If you think this piece does not represent you as a white athlete, prove me wrong.” Excellent!!

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