Ultimate Frisbee seeks to make a more equitable environment

Being different is nothing new to the Macalester Ultimate Frisbee Team. In some ways, uniqueness is the mantra of the sport, a niche the frisbee community has embraced. Recognizing their sport’s identity, the team has used its unique position as an opportunity to promote equity.

“Ultimate frisbee is known for being [a] very egalitarian sport, very counterculture [and] not super traditional in a lot of ways,” Izzy Ryde ’19 said. “A big part of that is a real focus on playing to every player, racial equality, gender equality, all that good stuff. So, in that spirit a lot of professional teams were coming up with equity statements [that] talk about how they were supporting players of different types.

“We were inspired to start writing [an equity statement] because of that,” she continued. “Once we started investigating these equity statements, it was usually just about gender and not about the other facets of intersectionality that can affect people’s lives.”

Wanting to have a more inclusive equity statement, the Macalester Ultimate Frisbee Team began crafting its own.

“To me, equity is the increase of inclusion and accountability through creating space and resources for people who don’t necessarily have access to those two things,” Paul Barsz ’20 said. “Although we can’t necessarily provide people with concrete resources [as a frisbee team], we do have a very unique space on this campus [as] an open club sports team for a non-contact sport.

“People don’t necessarily need to know how to play frisbee to be able to play frisbee,” he continued. “Because of [frisbee’s] accessibility, equity just kind of falls in line with that. Being [that] we have this space, how do we make it accessible and inclusive?”

Ryde and Barsz serve as the first equity captains for the Pursesnatchers and the Blue Monkeys, Macalester’s Women’s and Men’s Ultimate Frisbee Teams. As equity captains, Ryde and Barsz are tasked with creating awareness and dialogue about various equity-related topics like intersectionality and masculinity. This initiative began during the fall 2018 semester, with the club’s official, and more inclusive, equity statement being completed last spring.

Once a week, members of the Pursesnatchers meet to plan events and discuss how they see equity in their lives on the team and on campus. The Blue Monkeys aim to follow suit in the near future. What started as a written idea has evolved into a cultural shift.

“[Ultimate frisbee is] not always representative of the wider world,” Ryde said. ”Sometimes it can feel like we are fighting for equity justice within such a narrow subset… But what I strongly believe is that justice starts at home.

“You can’t bring equity to the world if you don’t do it in your immediate community,” she added. “By being involved in equity team, by having these discussions, by meeting with people and thinking intentionally about these sorts of things and trying to build policy that can allow people to do this, people will graduate from this team and bring the equity that they had on [this] equity team and on these ultimate frisbee teams into the world.” Barsz echoed similar sentiments and emphasized the gender privilege the Blue Monkeys have on campus.

“As the male team, we have inherent male privilege not only within our frisbee community but within our broader Mac community,” Barsz said. “This privilege affects the amount of space we take up, creates power imbalances and leads to toxic masculine behavior.

“The increase in accountability that I spoke of refers to holding each other accountable as men consciously working to recognize how our privileges affect our immediate frisbee community and how we can take that outside of just frisbee,” he added. “Introducing and normalizing these concepts surrounding equity is what this semester has been about.”

The ultimate objective for the equity captains is to make an impact that stretches well past the playing field. By setting the framework for a more equitable environment at Macalester, they’re well on their way to that goal.

“A lovely goal for the time that I have left at Mac is to normalize conversations about privilege and masculinity and solidify equity’s formal position within the frisbee community at working towards that,” Barsz said. “By continuing to shift the culture of frisbee into a space that is conscious of these things, we can actively work to address them.”