OPINION: Scripps’ winter housing plan shows lack of support for student-athletes

(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

Scripps College’s decision to place their student-athletes in off-campus housing for winter training camp again is a recent example of the college’s lack of support toward their student-athletes. They risk decreasing their already dwindling number of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps student-athletes unless they start listening to us, including us in problem-solving conversations and being transparent with us. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Scripps’ policy regarding housing over winter training camps for CMS athletes was aligned with those of Claremont McKenna College  and Harvey Mudd College — everyone stayed on campus. Student-athletes participating in winter sports, including swim and dive, basketball, track, and water polo were able to train multiple hours a day and prioritize an equal amount of time to rest and recovery as their CMC and Mudd teammates.

After the pandemic, however, Scripps placed their student-athletes off campus in Oasis for winter training camp in 2021. It was an isolating experience for the five Scripps swimmers and divers. Our 53 teammates were able to prioritize fueling and resting their bodies, while we had to drive past the Claremont Village to get home. We remained stuck there for those in-between hours during which team members bonded over cooking, eating together and playing games. 

Half of the point of training camp is team bonding; we missed out on that last year. Now, Oasis triggers another anxious response for one team member who was placed into COVID-19 quarantine twice there last year, confined to a small studio room with another student for a total of 20 days. 

To prevent this from happening again and to advocate for an experience equal to what our CMC and Mudd teammates receive, the Scripps CMS swimmers and divers proactively reached out to Residential Life and the Dean of Students Office via email on Nov. 17. We expressed our concerns that living in Oasis harmed our ability to train and ended the email by asking if living on campus was an option, as it was before the pandemic. We were met with an auto-reply-esque message one day later: “We received your letter. It will be reviewed, and you can expect a response in the near future.”

Two weeks passed. Then, a sentence popped up on my Outlook notifications: “Winter Housing Update 2022: Your request for Winter Housing has been approved…” Yes! I knew we had a chance to stay on campus if we just reached out reasonably. I read further: “Winter Housing will be located at Oasis, one of our off-campus locations.” I felt ignored, unheard and unvalued. Scripps had decided that we did not deserve a response. We never received an answer as to why they are placing us in Oasis this year beyond the mention of a 5C campus-wide power outage. But that outage will only be from Jan. 2 through Jan 4. They are forcing us to stay off-campus Dec. 28 through Jan. 12. Scripps also has a backup generator that will be in use, according to an email sent to faculty on Dec. 2. So why is Scripps unable to house us safely while experiencing the same power outage that Harvey Mudd and CMC will be? There have been no clear answers.

This lack of transparency became a theme within Scripps administration during our communication with them. President Keen was entirely unaware of the situation when I met with her during her office hours. Then, three Scripps Deans and ResLife played hot potato with us via email, seeming to not fully read our questions and insisting we had been answered in a previous email — before finally realizing on Dec. 7 that we had not.

A timely response acknowledging our email with an empathetic “no,” explaining their rationale, and offering to help us in other ways would have shown real support from Scripps. The closest thing to empathy we received was: “I know that not being able to stay on campus during training camp is not the outcome you wanted, however I hope that the above solutions demonstration [sic] our desire to support your success during training camp within our available options,” from Dr. Sha Bradley. Here is what empathy should sound like: “We understand the difficulties this decision will cause on your training, but we’d like to meet and discuss what resources we can provide you.” 

Including us in the problem-solving process would have also shown support. CMS athletic director Erica Jasper was extremely helpful in providing us with CMS vans for transport and reaching out to Scripps Dean Sha Bradley on our behalf; Jasper encouraged Bradley to reach out to us early on, which would have given us an opportunity to problem solve with her. Dean Bradley did not. Instead, she sent an email that began with listing the six people she had been in contact with since first receiving our concerns. That email had the hallmarks of being performative, rather than signs of a genuine effort to address our concerns.

I recognize that the necessities of “safe housing” will be provided to us over winter training: a roof, running water, electricity, wifi, and now noise machines to muffle the sound of the train horns that blast late at night. But when Scripps administration expresses no understanding for the difficulties that living off-campus causes, our concerns are effectively invalidated. Living at Oasis over training camp will be a challenge Scripps athletes, alone, have to deal with.

The dismissive treatment from Scripps administration threatens to further decrease Scripps’ participation on CMS teams. In 2016-2017, CMS had 71 Scripps students on their rosters. This season that number of student-athletes is 51, a 28 percent decrease. There are other contributing factors like COVID-19 pandemic, but regardless of the exact cause, Scripps is not doing enough to foster a student-athlete community as strong as they have had in the past.

I am one of many Scripps winter student-athletes who feel unheard, undervalued, and unsupported by Scripps. I’m confused; President Keen’s desire to support student-athletes has seemed genuine in every other interaction I’ve had with her. She even hosted a Halloween gathering at her house for us. But, in order to genuinely support us, Scripps must start listening to their student-athletes and take their concerns seriously. Otherwise, they risk losing even more representation in women’s sports than they already have — something I don’t need to explain the importance of at a women’s liberal arts college.

A Scripps feature article in 2017 highlighted the Scripps CMS experience with Scripps athletes saying that “the connections they form with their teammates is one of the most significant things they take away from their college experience.” This is still true for me, but the friendship I have with my teammates is not related to any support I have received from Scripps College.

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