Student group tackles perception of athletes

By Max Loos

Last spring, an op-ed sent to the Mac Weekly sparked a war of words about the role of athletics at Macalester, exposing an unresolved division in Macalester student culture. One group on campus is looking to end that hostility and mend that division once and for all.Members of the Macalester Student-Athlete Advisory Council’s (SAAC) Student-Athlete Perceptions Focus Group, born out of a controversial back-and-forth across the pages of the Mac Weekly’s opinion section last Spring, met on Tuesday afternoon to address animosity toward athletes on campus, the sources of this animosity and the divisions it creates, and ultimately how to bridge those divides.

While the group seeks to eventually engage what it sees as a stigma attached to athletes on campus, the goal of the meeting was to design a campus-wide survey to gauge these perceptions.

Marie Godwin ’10 created the group after reading the debate in the opinion section of the Mac Weekly last spring in which Anna Waggener ’12 compared some student athletes to the character Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast.”

“I was abroad in Denmark when that all went down, and I was going crazy,” she said. So when she got back, she decided to do something about it.

“I just kinda made this up,” she said. “We’re trying to get a feel for what the ‘reality’ is on campus for what people think about athletes.”

Thus far, however, the focus group has raised more questions than it has answered. During more than an hour of discussion in a small Campus Center conference room, the focus group decided to create a student-athlete-perception survey for the student population, and outlined some of the questions to be included in the survey.

In designing possible questions, the group placed much of the blame for hostility toward athletes on a few main stereotypes, identifying perceptions of athletes as overly privileged, exclusive or cliquey, and unreflective of the Macalester student body and its values as the ones that tend to lead to the kind of tension embodied by the opinion-page dispute.

Jose Rubio ’12 cited issues of race and sexuality as flashpoints of conflict between athletes and non-athletes on campus.

“From my point of view, there are certain sports that are more white, like football and baseball, and it’s really hard to engage in those groups if you’re not white, because you haven’t been exposed to that culture, or you’re not a bro,” Rubio said.

The culture of the Leonard Center was also discussed as a possible source of conflict. Members of the group recognized that non-athletes can often feel out of place or unwelcome working out next to members of Macalester sports teams. But while they decided to consider including a question about the Leonard Center on the upcoming survey, some members weren’t sure if the issue was entirely unique to Macalester.

“Everyone’s insecure at the gym,” said Celeste Prince ’10.

The group also plans to put together a separate survey to be given to Mac athletes, acknowledging that divisions and stereotypes are active between different groups of athletes. Yamshita cited the disparity between the treatment of the football team and the swimming team as an example.

“I think the football team has a lot more perks from the training staff from the athletic department, top to bottom,” he said. “The swimming team, I mean, speaking from experience, the training staff doesn’t really care about us, the athletic department doesn’t really support us.”

No members of the football team attended the meeting.

Godwin was disappointed that more students didn’t come to the meeting, which was open to anyone and advertised in the Daily Piper and Café Mac. Only 7 students came.

“We tried,” said Anna Gajewski ’10.

For Celeste Prince, student athlete perceptions had something of a personal importance.

“A lot of my friends don’t know I’m an athlete, and so will say disparaging comments about athletes in front of me,” she said. “It’s almost like I’m passing for a regular student.”

For her, the distinctions between students and athletes should not exist.

“I’m a student athlete but I see myself mostly as a student,” she said.