Amherst College has suspended its men's cross-country team over a series of emails in which runners exchanged racist, sexist and homophobic remarks.
The school announced Sunday that it was halting team activity "pending an investigation" by former Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice John Greaney, according to a letter from Amherst President Biddy Martin. In her statement, Martin condemned the team's emails as "appalling," "vulgar" and "cruel and hateful," and noted that the pattern stretched over a number of years.
Student magazine the Indicator catalogued the comments made in a team listserv between summer 2013 and summer 2015. The group was intended to welcome incoming freshmen, but some runners used it to introduce new students to some colorful terms for women, including "meatslab" and "a walking STD." One wondered if "Asians really have horizontal vaginas," while another team member reportedly referenced a current captain with the following comment: "Many debate what's more disturbing: His fetish for the anus or his fetish for the Orient."
Another message, emailed alongside a picture of a team member reclining between two women, reportedly read:
Here you'll see me with my main bitch ***** and my side hoe *****. Also notice the bump where my penis should be. That's my penis. The upperclassmen know not to fuck around with these two lovelies, but freshman be warned: Touch either of my meat slabs and I will fucking end you. Especially *****. God knows the little one can't protect herself.
According to the Indicator, certain people on the list did occasionally call out their peers for offensive language. The current team captain reportedly wrote that the more egregious emails were "not a total reflection on individual team members or the team culture as a whole." While some of the "inside jokes" the teammates referenced did "go over the top," he stressed that "we are not all misogynists." Another captain allegedly attempted a blanket protection against any offensive remarks that might be made in the future, asking his teammates to "please keep in mind the person did not seriously mean what they said."
Amherst Athletic Director Don Faulstick called the statements "disgusting."
"They have no place on our sports teams or anywhere at our college," he said in a statement. "They violate the 'zero-tolerance' standard toward bigotry of any kind that we explicitly set for our athletes."
Amherst was not immediately available to clarify what will happen to team members during the investigation — whether they will be individually suspended, or the team's season will be cancelled. The team, however, issued an apology statement:
We, the members of the Amherst Men's Cross Country Team, sincerely and deeply apologize to the entire Amherst community for the pain caused by our recently published remarks. There are no words to justify what was said, and we are all responsible for the harm inflicted by our team's comments. We are embarrassed and ashamed by what was said by some members of our team. We can never minimize the impact of these comments and sincerely apologize to the groups and individuals directly targeted. We aim to hold ourselves to high standards of respect, but we have fallen painfully short. Criticism is appropriate and deserved. These conversations have real consequences beyond members of our team, and we pledge to work with the Amherst community to change our team culture for the better.
The statement went on to note that team members had discussed how they could adjust their behavior and examine their "individual roles in fostering a toxic culture."
And yet that culture is not unique to Amherst: Harvard University recently canceled their men's soccer season after the administration took note of a 2012 team report ranking female players' attractiveness. Apparently, the report was part of an annual tradition — one which Harvard's men's cross-country team also took part in. The runners used spreadsheets to organize their critiques of the women's team and were placed on academic probation for it.
In November, Columbia University suspended its men's wrestling team after discovering offensive texts exchanged by members between 2014 and November 2016. The texts reportedly deployed racial slurs and referred to women as "cunts" and other derogatory terms; the incident prompted several students to organize a protest on campus.
And in September, Penn Masala — an a cappella group at the University of Pennsylvania — apologized for a question it included on its application, which asked potential new members to rank the school's five hottest female students.
"We sincerely apologize for this question," Masala president Hari Ravi said. "It shouldn't have ever been on the sheet in the first place. We fully understand how asking a question to freshmen like this impresses upon them ... a culture of objectifying women and perpetuating misogyny."