A few weeks ago our Sports editor, Michael Layer, reached out to several people on Goucher’s campus regarding the controversial photo of some Goucher lacrosse players. (You can read Layer’s article on the incident here: https://thequindecim.wordpress.com/2017/02/25/gouchers-response-to-mens-lax-photo/)
Goucher’s president was among the few that got back to Layer. With President José Bowen’s permission, we wanted to publish the letter he wrote to The Quindecim‘s editors.
Thank you for your thoughtful letter regarding the College’s response to the men’s lacrosse incident last fall. I share your serious concern about the incident, especially in light of the current national climate. Here is what I can share.
As you know, Bryan Coker and I issued a joint statement immediately following the picture being posted, expressing our serious concern, and condemning the behavior. The men’s lacrosse team took prompt internal action with the responsible team members as well as the overall team membership. The matter was also referred to the Bias Education Response Team (BERT), which reviewed the matter and recommended educational measures. Since that time, our Title IX Coordinator has conducted educational sessions with the team as has the Assistant Dean of Students. The coach has been a model of responsiveness and the players have taken this very seriously.
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. We are an educational institution. We invite students on to our campus to learn from their mistakes. Our approach to this incident has been – and will continue to be – learning-oriented. 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.
I have also attached my remarks from our Opening Convocation in January as they may also be informative of my position. We are in a highly polarized moment in American history. When there is not much listening, there is not much learning and little chance for new communal understanding to emerge across thickly drawn lines of opinion. In my remarks in January, I asked student to expand their empathy this semester. I still think that is key. We need to have higher standards for dialogue and disagreement, but we also need to make sure we are having real dialogue–and that means some tolerance for failure. Exile is typically reserved for offences for which there is no chance of reconciliation. If we as a College cannot find some tolerance for failure in each other, then we will not be preparing you to be potential listeners, builders, creators, and healers in the wider world where you will soon find yourselves. There are very few places in the U.S. right now where such a diverse collection of people are living together and trying truly to get along. We are a long way from perfect. I am proud of our ambitious goals and high ideals, and I also know that brings more pain, misunderstanding and hurt along the way. We have chosen to confront the reality of our society. This is not the safe path and 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.
BERT will soon be releasing an overview of cases they have considered over the past year, which will show all that is being done to address bias-related behaviors in our community. We are thankful to now have BERT, and hope to expand the opportunities for effective and educationally-based options for responses to bias incidents.
I am committed to learning, growth, and development as the ultimate outcome for this incident.
José Antonio Bowen