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Op-ed | Sexist speech reaches a public forum

Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 01:09


Last Friday night, members of the Smith and Tufts women’s volleyball teams were subjected to sexist and racist heckling from male fans. The behavior of those involved was threatening, demeaning and unacceptable, and I believe it was representative of a culture of aggression that needs to be changed. 

Partway through the second set of the match, a group of more than 20 young men arrived, many of whom were wearing Tufts lacrosse apparel. At first, they were boisterous and funny and brought a lot of energy to the crowd. 

At some point the atmosphere changed. Instead of just cheering for the Tufts team, several guys began roster-calling Smith players. It quickly escalated to the point where they were screaming sexist and racist insults across the gym. 

When a player squatted to receive a serve: “Look at those childbearing hips!” 

Commenting on a player’s build: “Whoa, we got a big one!”

Every single time a particular Latina player made contact with the ball: “Hey Sonia — Sonia you suck!” “Sonia, you f--ked up!” “That was all your fault, Sonia! You’re gonna get deported!” 

“Hey number five, I bet you have a tight butthole!” 

“Number seven! Number seven, where’s your boyfriend?” 

“Woo, look at those volleyball shorts!” 

“Hey! My sister’s your boyfriend!” Get it? The team was from Smith. Funny, right?

The Smith players were visibly unsettled and an assistant coach was glaring in the hecklers’ direction, although they bravely tried to ignore the commotion during the game. 

The group also sexually harassed the Tufts players and their coach, with one fan yelling, “Damn! Our coach is hot!” Eventually, they were chanting the Tufts’ coach’s name so that it echoed around the gym while she was trying to focus. In a disgusting display of mob mentality, they fed each other lines to further persecute the athletes and coaches. This was not a twisted attempt at flattery. Lecherous laughter and high-fives followed each shout. 

You might say they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong — they did. An athletic official approached them when they began roster-calling, asking them to stop using players’ names. At least half the group ignored the admonition and continued their hostile behavior. 

I get it. Sometimes at sports games people taunt the players of the opposing team to distract them. However, it crosses the line when they are making racist and sexist comments about individuals. Imagine trying to play your best with booming voices shouting down at you from the stands, making explicit and offensive comments about your body. Not only did they undoubtedly make the players of both teams uncomfortable, but they made other fans uncomfortable as well. I felt uneasy and threatened just being near them, and I know my female friends felt similarly.

I’m disgusted as a woman and as a Tufts student. I hope my fellow students are better than this. As members of the Tufts student body, you all represent our school, particularly when you wear Tufts athletic apparel. The behavior of the men in the stands was mortifying, and I hate to think what those Smith players and coaches think of us now.

Many people were guilty in this situation. Obviously, the men who were behaving inappropriately deserve the majority of the blame. In addition, however, Tufts athletic officials should have been far more aggressive in dealing with the situation. When the offenders did not initially heed the request to restrain themselves, they should have been asked to leave. Likewise, bystanders, including myself, should be ashamed that we did nothing to stop them. I regret not confronting the situation while it was occurring. 

I do not wish to say that this situation was unique. According to friends who are female athletes, it is not uncommon to be inappropriately harassed by fans at opposing schools. However, this particular incident should force all of us to examine our role in a culture that allows such behavior to occur. If nobody was willing to put a stop to verbal violence, will people be willing to stand up to physical violence? It is necessary that we all play a part in combatting an environment that makes anyone feel threatened.

I urge all Tufts students to consider being active bystanders. When you witness harassment, intervene — safely, of course. Most importantly, hold yourself and your friends accountable. There were members of the group that heckled, but never took it to a sexualized or racialized level, and I noticed them. They had the power to stop the comments from going too far and they did not. 

I urge those who participated in the harassment at the game to take a leadership role in combatting a culture of sexual aggression on campus. Apologies are great, but making a change is better. I realize this is a lot to ask for, but I have high hopes for Tufts students.

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14 comments Log in to Comment

Wed Sep 26 2012 12:56
At what point does the volleyball team move past compression short shorts as a uniform? It has nothing to do with performance guys volleyball teams wear regular shorts and do fine.
Wed Sep 26 2012 12:54
@CCC So if this pales in comparison to the real world, we should just accept things for what they are then, right? It starts here. Misogynistic and racist behavior, any negative behavior, really, gets worse when it isn't corrected. If everyone just "calmed down," as you suggested, then yes, the real world will stay the way it is. These students will graduate and continue this behavior in the "real world." I was taught to never sit back and accept the poor behavior of others. You can continue your life with a sense of passiveness if you so desire, but don't ever reprimand someone for having the courage to speak out. As an athlete at this school, as a woman at this school, as a person at this school: thank you.
Wed Sep 26 2012 11:04
veryone needs to calm down. This was not a major incident (that's why it's only being reported in an op-ed column, if at all). Words like "despicable", "shameful", etc have no place here. I mean I understand that there are a lot of P&J majors on this site, and you are all desperate for a cause worthy of your collective outrage, but trust me - this is not it.

Sometimes, at college, kids get rowdy and make jokes. But you know what it pales in comparison to? THE REAL WORLD. Go to any professional sports game. Seriously.

So if the point of college is to prepare us in some minimal way for the real world, then maybe this isn't the worst thing. Lord knows that Tufts students are mollycoddled in a litany of ways, which I have personally seen as an emotionally and professionally stunting practice for those who graduate and venture out into the aforementioned "real life".

I suspect that a little thicker skin would do Ms. Barrett a word of good.

Tue Sep 25 2012 21:26
Whoa! Look a these responses. But actually, "That was all your fault, Sonia! You're gonna get deported!"--that is a. foul and b. HILarious.
Tue Sep 25 2012 20:44
@wbristol: The NFL lockout was about social justice? Who let Mitt Romney comment on the Daily? Last time I checked, millionaires whining that they aren't paid enough has nothing to do with social justice. Unless of course you're talking about the referee lockout, which is still not really about social justice. The starting salary for an NFL ref is $78000 a year, which is pretty damn good for a part time job
Tue Sep 25 2012 17:17
@DA, while I understand where you are coming from in not wanting to have social justice conversations"force[d]" upon you when you just want to learn math, I have to disagree with you. While I am one of those squishy liberal arts types who likes learning about oppression, I also believe (strongly) that the learning about, and actual understanding of, systems of shaming (which ast924 artfully addressed) as well as other forms of systemic and institutionalized oppressions is important for a school which prides itself on creating "active citizens" (no matter their major).
In not caring about "stuff like this" you are, unfortunately (and probably non-maliciously) perpetrating the kind of behavior which is (generally) the actions of a few at something like a sports game. In requiring education and understanding about why systems of oppression are a bad thing it enables more people to stand up and react to and correctly identify instances like the one described in the article, as well as any number of campus (or general life) issues that arise.
Tue Sep 25 2012 15:15
I'm right with this op-ed until the very end, when the author tries to use the behavior of a few people as an excuse to force more (!) social justice requirements on the entire student body. Some of us are just here to do math, and couldn't care less about stuff like this. If the rest of you want to have these conversations, that's fine, but please leave the rest of us alone.
Tue Sep 25 2012 14:59
@TuftsAlum12, I believe the others that commented below me have already done a good job explaining why your comment is shameful and disrespectful, but as a fellow Jumbo, female, and human being, I cannot let your comment go past without my two-cents. I cannot believe that after reading an article dedicated to raising awareness about sexist and racist speech at a sports game, that you would have the audacity to degrade Rose in your comment. You yourself have displayed another instance of this vile behavior that I am ashamed to have had to read. It is easy for a person to sit behind their computer and make rude remarks, but I sincerely hope that this is not how you carry yourself in real life.
Also, if you're going to belittle and patronize a person, at least have the decency to spell her name correctly.
Tue Sep 25 2012 14:35
@TuftsAlum12 Because if the NFL lockout has taught us anything, it's that social justice and sports narratives have absolutely nothing to do with each other and never affect each other in any way
Tue Sep 25 2012 13:46
@TuftsAlum12, I would have to say that it is you who "reflects a failure to appreciate or understand sports." True sportsmanship has never been about using harassment and rude comments to try to distract the other team and come out on top; it is about playing your best. Inappropriate fan aggression and harassment are not an inherent part of sports; they are a part of a culture that normalizes shaming (and especially the shaming of women). It is not OK to shame someone for the way they look (ie, the Latina player on the Smith team) and justify it as "appreciation and understanding of sports" and "lifting our school's dismal athletic mantle." Additionally, Ms. Barrett is not arguing in any way that college athletics should reward all players, regardless of skill or winning record; she is merely asserting that no athletes should be subjected to sexist and demeaning aggression from fans while they are trying to play their best. TUVB has worked really hard this season and deserves every win they get, and the perpetuation of harassment by fans has no place in an athletic establishment of such caliber.
Tue Sep 25 2012 11:53
@TuftsAlum12, as a student at Tufts, I have to vehemently disagree with you, and want nothing to do with you as an alumus/a. Your attempt to shame both the author of this op-ed and the Smith women who were horribly harassed is in itself shameful and disgusting. Appealing to Tufts' "dismal athletic mantle" as a veil for your sexism and acceptance of harassment is a horrible attempt at deflection.
The Tufts I know is better than you, and it is better than the group of young men who harassed the participants in the volleyball game last night.
Tue Sep 25 2012 11:36
@TuftsAlum12, I'm a member of the Tufts women's volleyball team and I absolutely disagree with you. Winning is important to our team but so is upholding Tufts' good name. Anywhere we go, we always strive to garner the respect of our opponents through our skills as well as through our comport both on AND off the court. I would hope that the same goes for our fellow athletic teams or any student group at Tufts. It is completely unacceptable for anyone--student, team, or otherwise--to behave in such a way, regardless of where they are or who they're with.
Tue Sep 25 2012 11:24
just a note on your final urge - doesn't tufts already have a fairly extensive sexual harassment awareness program for incoming freshman? correct me if i'm wrong, but i seem to recall participating in some type of seminar/presentation about that..
Tue Sep 25 2012 09:47
This op-ed reflects a failure to appreciate or understand sports. In the words of Al Davis, "Just win, baby"--and Tufts did just that crushing Smith 3-0 in that match. Now, Ms. Barret please return to your suburban soccer league where everyone get a trophy and let the big girls and boys take care of business as a new generation of Jumbos try to lift our school's dismal athletic mantle.

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