There is a rift on campus. Not between Workers for Justice and the administration, not between sub-free and sub-optional and not between sponsors and RAs. The rift, often ignored but always present, is between athletes and non-athletes.
There is no one directly to blame for this; we have grown up in an age where every sitcom has a group of jocks. Marked by a traditional letterman jacket, the athletes are differentiated from the general population. The jacket carries implications of popularity and confidence, but rarely do sitcoms show the opposite side. The jacket is isolating, marking an athlete as an “other,” connoting stupidity and a limited future outside of athletics.
It is within that framework that we arrive at Pomona College. From day one, athletes are distinguished from their peers, leaving Orientation Adventure early to return to campus for practice. That does not mean that non-athletes immediately ostracize and dislike the athletes; rather, interactions between the two are largely positive, as all are Pomona students brought together by similar personalities.
Still, stereotypes of athletes grow in and permeate the larger population. Just as Americans love their postmen and children’s teachers—even though they hate the idea of bureaucracy—the connotations of athletes as a group grow even while bonds are formed in the classroom between athletes and non-athletes.
“Their parties are too loud, they take up so much space at Frary, they think they own PUB and—gasp—they didn’t work as hard as I did to get into Pomona.”
Surely there are non-athletes shaking their heads, saying “I like my athlete friends; I don’t think like that,” and maybe they do. But denying the stereotype exists on campus is just as dangerous as buying into it.
Maybe there is a justifiable foundation for some of the stereotypes: the athletic teams do occupy large tables at Frary and often roll to PUB en masse. But how did we, liberal-thinking Pomona College students, let this divide grow and separate the two groups?
Student athletes would have a hard time participating in certain organizations, regardless. Not only is playing a sport a large time commitment, it is a very specific time commitment. Any group on campus that plans events between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. will have few athletes participate, if any at all. However, I refuse to believe that the time commitment is the only factor limiting an athlete’s involvement. There is a feeling on campus that there are serious ideological differences between sports teams and other campus groups.
It must be difficult for the Queer Resource Center to reconcile an athletic program founded on the separation of the biological sexes when one of their key tenants is eliminating the social constructs of gender. Athletic teams do not start the preseason with a discussion of each individual’s preferred gender pronoun. Even still, there is more in common between the two institutions than either knows. Both groups went through high school defined by gender stereotypes; it is incredibly frustrating to feel as if participating in a sport forbids you from expressing interest in certain activities or that there is a magic correlation between the sport you play and your sexual orientation. These issues should bind the groups together, not perpetuate the same stereotypes that make them seem so separate.
The separation between athletics and arts is as longstanding as the tradition of portraying jocks in letterman jackets but just as ridiculous. Every sport is its own brand of art, each pass as intentional as every brush stroke, each move as beautiful as a chorus in harmony, each point the punch line on stage. Somewhere that has been lost, sports being reduced to bruising without thought and arts as an endeavor for the un-athletic. These stereotypes exist even though both activities require passion and persistence—a thrill in performance beyond self-importance. The insane time commitment for sports and the arts makes them nearly mutually exclusive but provides testament to the qualities necessary for participation in either.
Some of these stereotypes are so entrenched in our popular culture that changing them seems pointless, futile. But little steps here and there go to great lengths to bring the two worlds together. When it comes to events and causes, actively searching for support outside the typical circle provides a small window into the true nature of these students and their personalities. Looking beyond the façade of heterogeneity in athletics reveals a group marred by lifelong stereotypes. Reaching into that divide supports the ideals of the campus culture we hold so dear: acceptance, tolerance and individuality.