Michael Layer, Sports Editor
In the first issue of this semester, the professors in the Center for Geographies of Justice and Cultures published an open letter addressed to President Jose Bowen. The letter urged Goucher College to take further action to address a racially insensitive photograph taken by members of the Goucher men’s lacrosse team on November 8, 2016.
The team was celebrating the end of their fall pre-season with a scrimmage organized by the captains on the team. The scrimmage took place on one of the practice fields behind the Eline von Borries pool nearly a week after Halloween. The team dressed up in costumes, which included various fuzzy animals, an assortment of characters from video games, and a policeman. The team seemed to enjoy their costumes, most of which seemed to be hooded onesie pajamas on top of their lacrosse gear, and posted their collection of pictures on Facebook and Instagram.
One student dressed up in a Donald Trump shirt, khaki shorts, American Flag suspenders, and a Make America Great Again hat. He posed for a picture with two other white students in style ponchos and sombreros, suggesting to be Mexicans, and posted the photo on Instagram. The post was saved as a screenshot and shared on Facebook by a student who identified the photo as an example of cultural appropriation. Other students and alumni on Facebook shared the post and the photo quickly became public knowledge within the Goucher community.
In the following hours, Goucher College sent out an email and Facebook post titled, “An Important Message to our Community,” which was signed by President Jose Bowen and Dean Bryan Coker. At the time, certain members of the Goucher community were assuaged by the Goucher administration’s response. The open letter from the Center for Geographies of Justice and Cultures represents a community patience that has been tested one too many times.
In the article, the faculty published four recommendations for constructive action in response to the photo, which included individual suspension, a public update from Goucher’s Administration, and that “the entire Goucher men’s lacrosse team participate in cultural literacy training.” Before the article was published, President Jose Bowen and Andrew Wu addressed these concerns with The Quindecim in a personal email and a follow up interview.
On February 14, 2017, President Bowen revealed that the team took “prompt internal action with the responsible team members, as well as the overall team membership.” Head Coach Bryan Kelly reached out to Luz Burgos-Lopez, the assistant Dean of Students for Race, Equity, and Identity. According to Burgos-Lopez, “Coach Kelly was interested in having conversations with his team to address what happened, and was seeking guidance on the best approach to these discussions.”
Both Coach Kelly and Burgos-Lopez made the decision that the team should hold a workshop series conducted by Lucia Perfetti Clark, Goucher’s Title XI Coordinator, and Luz Burgos-Lopez. These classes began in small groups of three or four students and then expanded to lecture style courses intended for the entire team. Burgos-Lopez claims that “the workshops are not a punishment, nor an institutional response to what happened. They are the result of a partnership with Coach Kelly to try to build some greater capacity within the team.” According to President Bowen, “The coach has been a model of responsiveness and the players have taken this very seriously.”
President Bowen, as well as Luz Burgos-Lopez feel that these courses, not expulsion or suspension, are the best way to address the issue. Bowen remarked, “While suspension from the team or public shaming might seem to offer a quick and strong response, such a sanction seriously diminishes opportunities for student learning and growth.” For Bowen, making mistakes is an integral part of learning, and Goucher students would not feel safe enough to make mistakes if others are being suspended or expelled. Because he believes that these Goucher students are capable of learning from their mistakes, he feels that the educational workshops are the right course of action by saying, “Exile is typically reserved for offenses for which there is no chance of reconciliation.”
Luz Burgos-Lopez knows that systems of accountability haven’t been in place at Goucher for very long and, in her opinion, “people have the right to be upset and angry.” However, she is critical of a Goucher community that seeks to criticize the men’s lacrosse team or the Goucher administration. Burgos-Lopez claims that students were responsible for spreading misconceptions and that “people were having conversations that were toxic and out of fear.”
President Bowen commented on this issue, saying, “We probably should have provided some follow-up communication regarding these efforts before now, but I also think that what the public needs to know has to be weighed against the potential for real educational gains.” Burgos-Lopez agreed and is critical of The Quindecim even publishing this article: “Historically, students haven’t been able to handle sensitive information… who are the people you’re trying to hold accountable?”
Though there is significant student backlash on the men’s lacrosse team and the Goucher administration, Burgos-Lopez believes that the Goucher “doesn’t have the capacity to talk about race across the board, to really engage the community.” She claims that when certain students talk about issues of race on campus, they fail to consider other marginalized groups, and that certain issues become coded messages for avoiding social equity. “It’s elitist to claim that one has the capacity to know how to address this situation,” she says.
Racism both globally and within our campus won’t be resolved quickly. Burgos-Lopez stands behind the educational measures prescribed to the team: “No one changes overnight; the classes are supposed to bring about an awareness, but this is not a punishment.” Neither BERT, Goucher’s Bias Education and Response Team, nor CREI has any power of adjudication and cannot sanction any punishment on individuals or a team. BERT plans on emailing an official report of the incident outlining the school’s response before Spring Break.
President Bowen spoke in January for Goucher’s Opening Convocation and said, “we need to have higher standards for dialogue and disagreement, but we also need to make sure we are having a real dialogue – and that means some tolerance for failure… There are very few places in the U.S. right now where such a diverse collection of people are living together and truly trying to get along. We [at Goucher] are a long way from perfect… if we are to make progress, we must both have higher standards for dialogue and all be brave and willing to support each other in the effort.”