Student-Athletes Should Not Skip Vital Gender Inclusivity Training

Recently, there has been a lot of debate surrounding the athlete/non-athlete divide at Oberlin. I believe that one of the most preeminent ways students can bridge this so-called “divide” is by challenging themselves to enter new and possibly uncomfortable spaces. We should all be willing to put in the work to support other students’ interests and identities — whether this means going to a featured concert, attending a sports game, or taking a workshop on privilege and oppression. Bridging this so-called divide is contingent on how much each individual is willing to step outside of their own social circles and learn about others.

This past week, the Athletics department required all student-athletes to attend a presentation about gender inclusivity in sports given by Dr. Rachel McKinnon, an internationally competitive cyclist and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the College of Charleston, focusing on issues related to gender and queer identities. Student-athletes who could not make the initial presentation last Sunday evening were required to attend a workshop the next day, led by Dr. McKinnon. This workshop, which was smaller in size and more interactive than the presentation, provided attendees with tangible information on how to navigate the many identities that fall under the trans umbrella, allyship, and how to be an active bystander. Dr. McKinnon runs workshops on all sorts of inclusion and allyship through her organization “Diversity Fox Consulting” — this one was titled “Including Trans Women Athletes in Sports.”

To my dismay, however, many student-athletes simply signed themselves in, took one of the free “EQUALITY” t-shirts, and promptly left the venue before the presentation had even started. “Many” is perhaps an inaccurate term for the seriousness of this action — even just one student-athlete who denied themselves this learning opportunity is too many. Although I think the Athletics department should have given more than a six-day notice for this mandatory event, this failure on behalf of the student-athletes who decided that the event was “not for them” or that they had “more important things to do” is unacceptable.

Their selfishness reflects badly on themselves, their teams, and the Athletics department as a whole. Moreover, and most importantly, their decision to not show up and learn about a marginalized group in society — transgender and gender-nonconforming people — is one of privilege.

Occurrences like this exacerbate the divide between athletes and non-athletes on this campus. Oberlin is a school with a multitude of identities, interests, and backgrounds, and not showing up to an event or workshop like Dr. McKinnon’s demonstrates that the athletics community as a whole is unwilling to operate in solidarity with those who need our support.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, trans and gender-nonconforming people face some of the highest rates of sexual violence within the LGBTQ community. In order to combat this alarming statistic, we must be willing to understand this phenomenon and why it happens. We must also serve as active bystanders, even if inserting ourselves into the situation puts us at risk. As pointed out by several former Review articles, even the ones that involve less-than-stellar takes on the athletics community here at Oberlin, “teams have a way of taking over a space” (“Athletics Encourage Toxic Belief Systems,” The Oberlin Review, Oct. 27, 2017). Rather than seeing this as a negative characteristic of varsity teams, perhaps we should see it as a tool for effective active bystandership. Student-athletes should use their looming physical presence as a way to protect marginalized groups, such as trans and gender-nonconforming people. There is strength in numbers, and student-athletes at Oberlin have the ability to protect people at risk from instances of transphobia and sexual harm.

I implore the members of varsity athletic teams to hold their teammates accountable for their actions. If you’re willing to lay it all out for your teammate on the field, there is no reason why you should not be willing to do the same for a fellow Obie. To the student-athletes who decided that learning about the implicit privilege that permeates college athletics or about how to operate in solidarity with trans and gender-nonconforming people was not important enough for you, I call upon you to undertake this invaluable task: Be better.