Hitting Close to Home

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

As some of you know, my daughter is a member of the Wheaton College women’s soccer team.

You may also know there was an incident there that has received some attention.

During a team event just prior to Halloween, the team formed into groups where members of each group dressed in coordinating costumes. One group came as the characters from the movie White Chicks. Two blonde white women. And a black man. Complete with makeup.

Being young college students, you can imagine that photos made it out to social media.

You can also imagine that other students on social media were hurt and offended.

Once the soccer team realized that people were offended, they attempted to delete the shared photos. I’m sure you can guess how well that went.

So the team did something wrong – both the group who dressed in the costume and the rest of the team who did not put a stop to it.  Part of our white privilege is not thinking too much about what marginalized groups might find offensive and not objecting when we see something that is offensive. Of course that has to stop.

So, the three girls in costume were suspended from the first game of the NEWMAC soccer tournament. Sounds reasonable to me.

And the team was withdrawn from subsequent games of the tournament ending their season. A bit harsh, in my opinion, but okay.

And the president of the college put out a public message on the college website and Facebook page that starts off with

The past few days have been disturbing and challenging for our community. A Wheaton student chose to wear blackface as part of an offensive and racist Halloween costume, and the incident raises difficult issues for all of us.
I am particularly dismayed that this student did not act alone, but was part of a group of other individuals who actively participated in this event and then attempted to cover it up.
[Disciplinary action] is intended to signal a clear message that offensive and racist behavior will not be tolerated at Wheaton.

A racist cover up? I’m not sure I would have gone that far in publicly condemning the girls on the team.

I bet you can also guess what is happening to the young woman who dressed as the black actor, right? A photo of her in costume plastered in papers and on TV. Discussions of the story on the radio. And vicious targeting on social media. As a result, the college felt the need to remove her photo from the team roster on their athletic website.

In fact, the whole team is being ostracized. 

At least one white hockey mask (symbolizing a death mask?) was left outside of a dorm room one night. One of the girls was called a “white bitch”. A note has been left under a door. 

So now the entire roster has been removed from the athletic website, and the coach, with the team’s safety in mind, suggested that the girls leave campus for the weekend.

The president’s response to the threats? In the middle paragraph of an email to alum, staff, faculty, and students (so not to the parents and certainly not to the public), he states

I want to stress the importance of maintaining a positive and productive focus. The college has received several reports of bullying and threatening behavior among students. This kind of behavior has no place in our community, and we are investigating those reports. Think about how you will engage in positive and constructive dialogue, and think about how you can start doing that now. Please share this sentiment with others on campus and those off campus with whom you are in contact.

So, I’m sharing. I could be wrong due to bias, but the tone between the two messages seems very different to me.

The players have accepted responsibility for their actions and have wanted to apologize to the community, but they have not been allowed to do so as of yet. I’m hoping there are good reasons for this. They might have an opportunity to apologize this week.

So the costume, and the handling of it by the team, was wrong.

And the girls should have known that. They probably did understand that at some level.

But what is happening to the girls right now is also wrong.

And people should understand that as well.

The divisiveness in this country is absolutely insane right now. I’m not sure how it will be repaired.

However, we had an opportunity here to work through this example and show the rest of the country how it’s done.

And we blew it.

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