The following letter was submitted by Samuel Lagasse ’16, who is the Vice President of Kenyon Athletes for Equality and a member of Kenyon’s Men’s Cross Country team. He writes in response to the cover story of yesterday’s issue, “If You Can Play, You Can Listen,” written by Molly O’Connor, which can be found here.
To the Editors of the Kenyon Observer,
In the recently published article, “If You Can Play, You Can Listen,” writer Molly O’Connor criticizes the limited reach of one of Kenyon’s newest student organizations, Kenyon College Athletes for Equality. O’Connor’s critique targets a group that has existed, in financial and organizational solidarity, for fewer than four weeks. Central to her argument is the assertion that KCAE has been unable to garner adequate support from the stereotypically homophobic population of Kenyon’s campus, that of its male athletes. O’Connor looks at two events, specifically: the filming of the group’s video which promotes queer visibility on campus, and the group’s photo-documentary of Coming Out Week, which was later posted to a Facebook album.
While I understand that, in many ways, our Facebook album depicts a noticeable disparity in the number of responses offered between men and women, I would not immediately jump to O’Connor’s conclusion. There are many reasons as to why the disparity might have occurred. I’m no scientist, but I’m pretty sure that our two-day tabling efforts can’t be used as an accurate sample for making statistical claims about the male-athlete population. Our project for Coming Out Week did not strive to elicit response from a particular audience, but rather sought a response from everyone and anyone who came to our table. Why? Because visibility is what matters. Affirmation is what matters. By reducing the efforts of KCAE solely to an invalid quantification of our audience, Ms. O’Connor fails to grasp what is, perhaps, the more microscopic or communal impact of our project—that of providing for those queer individuals who feel frightened, lonely, or abandoned a visible sign of hope.
Moreover, in response to O’Connor’s observations regarding our video, I will agree that “the majority of the message comes from administrators and coaches.” This is undeniable. However, this choice on the part of those filming was intentional, and was not related to the unwillingness of certain teams to partake. For example, the Men’s Cross Country team would have loved to be a part of the video, but was unavailable during the days of filming due to practices. More importantly, though, it was the opinion of KCAE’s executive board that hearing words of support from administrators and coaches was invocative of a powerful message. We considered the most important recipient of this message to be those prospective students identifying as queer. The opinion of the executive board is very similar to my own personal conviction. As a queer athlete choosing between Kenyon and a handful of other schools, hearing from Coach Duane Gomez that homophobia was not tolerated on either of his teams was an important aspect of my final decision to apply early decision to Kenyon.
Furthermore, by challenging as to how the group plans to “break down barriers that have been built throughout the history of male-dominated athletics,” O’Connor misinterprets KCAE’s fundamental aim. Our goal is not to face head-on the prejudice of male-dominated athletics, but rather to foster an important discourse on equality via our support of the increased visibility of queer athletes. As an organization, KCAE recognizes that homophobia in sports is a direct result of the lack of athletes who identity as LGBTQ or as allies. Neither of our projects were designed with the intent to combat homophobia head-on. Instead, we hoped that by developing a message of safety and inclusion, queer athletes might be encouraged to emerge from the proverbial closet and enter into dialogue with their coaches, teammates, friends, and families.
As a final point, I believe the fact that KCAE’s slogan “quickly became a joke on campus” is a reflection not of our failure but the failure of the community to move beyond the notion of queer sexuality as something to ridicule. If, on Kenyon’s campus, queer sexuality and gender expression remains a laughable topic, then perhaps it is because those who would laugh or mock our efforts have never had as a teammate or, more importantly, a lifelong friend, anyone who identifies as queer. We, as KCAE, seek to end the cycle of invisibility and intolerance through the affirmation of LGBT participation in athletics.
Vice President, Kenyon College Athletes for Equality