Another side of the debate

The party that happened this weekend is indefensible. I understand why people on campus are upset about the events of last weekend, and I feel for the people who have been hurt. However, the response to the party, and the subsequent demonizing of the football team, has been unfair. Many see this issue as a cut and dry instance of hatred and bigotry, but the reality is far from that.

Many athletes, especially those of certain sports, feel pigeonholed into a certain cohort of campus society from the moment that they set foot on Grinnell soil. Their cultural backgrounds are often very different from the atmosphere they have been thrust into at Grinnell. For example, before college, I had never interacted with a gay person, African American person, or Hispanic person. Simply by definition, it takes a person from a background like mine time to adjust to Grinnell.

One would think that a community such as Grinnell would be tolerant, patient and understanding of the difficulties associated with the transition many athletes are making. Instead, athletes and football players in particular are ostracized. The raised eyebrows when a muscular male actually contributes to class discussion, the changing of walking trajectory and lowering of gazes when a football player passes, the flat-out denials that football brings any benefits to the campus; we notice it all. Much of the rhetoric concerning this issue has focused on “the campus community.” For many of us, this community does not exist; we were never offered a part in it, and have been very clearly excluded.

In the cultures that some football players come from, words like misogyny, feminism and heteronormativity are without tangible meaning. As such, the party that happened Saturday did not raise any red flags for some participants. The words “violently sexual” have been used to describe the events of the party, but anyone there would contend that sexual violence was not a part of the equation. The party was seen by some as an opportunity for friends to get together as a group, a time to hang out and consume delicious Jell-O shots. In other words, a party with many similarities to the countless others often held on this campus. Some aspects of this party crossed the line, but please believe me when I say that myself and others meant no harm. Clearly, people are upset, and rightly so, and for that I am truly sorry.

When news came out that a possibly offensive party had taken place, rather than attempting to hear both sides of the story, and indeed without hearing almost any of the facts, phrases like “aggressive hurt-machines,” “everyone judge the shit out of these kids,” “why does Grinnell even have a football team?,” and “you’re a coward,” have been used in the public domain. Strong terms like “Misogynistic,” “hate-crime,” and “bias motivated incident,” are everywhere. For a campus that prides itself on being socially just, the response to persecute these individuals was nearly instantaneous. In many eyes, the football team has clearly become a bastion of misogynists, rapists, and privilege; everyone on the team is seen as guilty and irredeemable. Small wonder that the divide between football players and the campus at large is so wide; blind distrust and hatred tends to do that.

Some might ask, why after their year(s) at Grinnell, do football players not understand? The simple fact is that most people at Grinnell are holding athletes to a societal conception that they have not ascribed to, let alone been invited to be a part of. The atmosphere is ripe to integrate athletes into Grinnell as a whole, but the deep-rooted prejudice that greets athletes on campus is an almost insurmountable obstacle for doing so. The Cunnilingus party is absolutely indefensible, but it seems that the campus has decided to fight hatred with hatred. Scapegoating and ostracizing an already marginalized group on campus, a group made up of great people, goes against every value that Grinnellians claim to hold dear. What I find most problematic is that no one is attempting to understand the different cultures surrounding football players and why this made them think such a party was okay, and have instead turned to alienating, marginalizing, and potentially expelling them. Rather than turn to hate, I encourage everyone to learn from this horrible event and work to create a truly diverse community at Grinnell.

—Jake Thompson ’10