OPINION: CMS athletics functions like Greek life — and that culture needs to go

People move past a building with signs "Roberts Pavilion" and "Claremont McKenna College."
Competitiveness is the center of the CMS community, writes Camille Forte CM ’23. It shouldn’t be — and people need to care. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life)

After eleven years, I will not have practice tomorrow. I will no longer be a “competitive” athlete. I will no longer be a part of CMS — and I am relieved.

Yesterday, CMS Athletic Director Erica Jasper sent out an email to all CMS athletes. Harvey Mudd College and Claremont McKenna College’s Dean of Students offices found the entire Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men’s soccer team in violation of hazing as per the student code of conduct, and, as a result, canceled the remainder of the fall season.

While the consequence of season suspension is adequate for the fall (and indeed the only option), I am doubtful CMS athletics will demonstrate structural changes by spring. As a former member of CMS women’s track and cross country, I testify that CMS falls short of its promotional declaration to produce “Scholar — Leader — Athletes.”

For the past three years, CMS team cultures have harmed CMC’s community. CMS athletes shouldn’t have been the only ones to get the email about the hazing incident — CMC students should have received the email as well. Hazing, which results in deaths every year, and other problematic behaviors happen all the time. As a campus which boasts that one-third of our students are scholar athletes, we deserve to know when an attack on our community values occurs. 

My CMS experience weighs on me heavily. CMC and 5C students need to understand the depth of cruelty that students experience. My coaches and teammates — particularly men — marginalized me during my two-year tenure on CMS.

I decided not to return to CMS cross country this fall. Instead of my coach asking why, she gave me an ultimatum: If I did not compete in the fall, I would be prohibited from training with my teammates in the spring. She never asked enough to learn how teammates constantly doubted my running abilities and micro aggressed my identities. My male teammates’ behavior diluted my sense of belonging.

Weekend parties sufficed as our weekly team bonding. Peer pressure littered party invitations, with team party emails asking “if [we] wanted to be remembered on Saturday” or “if [we] actually wanted to be ready for Sunday long run.” Seniors handed off van keys to juniors because they were still drunk at Sunday morning practice. Because of my campus job commitments, I had to skip out on parties and alcohol-related activities, and that was seen as not buying into the team.

As an NCAA Division III program, CMS does not grant athletic scholarships. However, coaches recruit most CMC athletes. Working in CMC admissions, I have seen the “athlete” tag on student’s applications. Coaches’ “pre-read” recommendations of students and an overnight visit factor into an athlete’s application. The CMC recruit pool is narrow. It is exclusive by nature. Take one look at the white and/or high-income dominated rosters. This hyper visible homogeneity of CMC athletes begins at recruitment. 

CMC students deserve transparency about recruitment goals and standards. What community are coaches cultivating? Based on my experience, coaches are looking for a team that will win — and that’s all they’re looking at. 

During a relay warmup last spring, my male track teammates refused to make room in a narrow hallway. They returned my requests with mockery. A white male teammate entertained a sexist and disrespectful imitation of me. Out of my twenty teammates witnessing this, no one did anything. “Typical of freshmen guys,” my head coach said of the behavior. I requested my teammate be barred from next week’s competition. Instead, I would get a mandated apology. 

However, teammates stopped me in passing to say “oh that’s just how he is,” “he didn’t mean it like that,” and “you’re still mad?” My teammates accepted and defended the “boy will be boys” mentality. Four weeks later, I received an apology with mild gaslighting. My coach comforted me by saying “at least we’re fast.” Coaches and athletes perpetuate program success at the cost of mutual respect.

There are no excuses for these behaviors, yet every two years (and all the time in between) a new incident occurs, and CMS culture needs to “rebuild and heal.” No, CMS needs to restart. 

In the time between Jasper’s email release and the publication of this piece, CMC continues to diminish the seriousness of hazing from our institutional consciousness. Today at 6:51 a.m., CMC tour guides received an email about handling fallout and preparing for TSL’s critique. Our community comes second to public relations. Hours later, I shared my concerns about the incident in my class. My professor stated, “it’s nothing compared to the bro culture of the 80s.” At every turn, CMC excuses these patterns of behavior. This is how we move forward — but not how we progress. 

Athletes, coaches and administration must constantly disrupt complacent attitudes about peer pressure, hazing and drinking. Athletes and coaches must reflect on the comfortable spaces CMS creates for these behaviors. CMS needs to recruit consciously; mandate toxic masculinity training and bystander intervention; and educate coaches who prioritize trophies over athletes. If CMS fails to do this, it will continue to be “3 Schools, 2 Mascots, and 1 Culture” — that is, white culture, dominated by men and protected by privilege.

Guest writer Camille Forte CM ’23 is a history and government major from the city of Chicago. She is a former CMS athlete and works in a variety of CMC’s institutions, including admissions, residential life and career services. 

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