by Daniel Ahn, Helen Mayer, and Sam Wohlforth
A current junior member of the Amherst cross-country team sent a team-wide email containing a list of women that described their sexual histories and supposed sexual proclivities next to their photographs on June 14, 2015. The list was directed to the first-year recruits who awaited matriculation to Amherst in the fall, and purported to introduce them to the “friends of Amherst (XC).”
In the email, the team member refers to one woman as “a walking STD,” and writes, “Everyone needs their meatslab,” referring to another. He describes a third woman – “Without being too mean, she is a stuck up, snobby, bitch; AKA the perfect formal date for the desperate members of our team.”
The list targets eight people in total.
This is one entry in a series of similar emails sent during the early summer of 2015, and this series is in turn part of a misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and transphobic trend spanning verifiably from summer 2013 to summer 2015, and implicitly much further back in the team’s history.
One team member wrote on June 8, 2014, “You know the girls at your high school who aren’t that attractive or personable, so no one talks to them? Picture a college with ~900 of them and you have our lovely liberal arts institution.”
On June 24th that year, a team member asked a teammate, “do asians really have horizontal vaginas?”
The 2015 list drew immediate criticism from a team member, who has since transferred from Amherst, largely on account of the toxic athletic culture he experienced on the men’s cross-country team. He wrote, “That was one of the most fucked up things ive read in a while. I know youre friends with most of these girls but you took it way past friendly messing around.”
The first response to this came from a current captain, who made a conciliatory effort.
“Perhaps one of the more important parts of this email is to address the freshmen and let you know that this email chain is not a total reflection on individual team members or the team culture as a whole, especially in regards to [teammate’s] comments,” he wrote.
The teammate he referred to was the one who had sent out the initial criticism. He continued,
“As you can tell, a lot of jokes are being thrown around, and a lot of inside jokes. Eventually you’ll understand some of them, and still others may remain a mystery forever. Do some jokes go over the top? Yes, some certainly do go over the top. Many also don’t. With complete sincerity, don’t let this email chain color your vision of the team, nor let if affect your own beliefs, opinions, etc. We are not all misogynists, something I know [teammate] nor others nor [teammate] meant to demonstrate or imply. And again, if you believe this is just a naïve and biased view I hold then let me know.”
The team member who had sent out the list wrote an apology in response to the criticism.
“I’d like to follow up on [teammate’s] and [teammate’s] email with a very sincere apology of my own,” he wrote. “As many have said, the summer email chain is a time to poke fun at various members of the Amherst XC community, but I realize now that I took it over the top. Though there have been other controversial things said in the chain, I realize that my email went overboard. It is no conciliation, but please know that most, if not all of what I said was horribly exaggerated. Im sorry that I had to do that for a laugh.”
In the context of the team’s prior and following communications, the sentiments expressed in this conversation represent an anomaly. The original email was followed by one critique, one effort at reconciliation, and two apologies, before a team captain stepped in to direct the conversation elsewhere.
“I think this topic needs one last serious email before we return the email chain to its normal light hearted manner,” he wrote. “For everyone on here, not just the freshman, please know that most everything said on the email chain is a joke, people will almost always denote when they are being serious on here. Trying to get a laugh out of people can be very hard and very often people go a little too far with their jokes, and I’m not just talking about us here but comedians everywhere. If you type in “comedians in trouble” into google you get tons of hits on comedians who went too far on their jokes. If professional comedians miss the line sometimes it only makes sense that we would too. Offensive jokes are not a reflection of someone’s political or moral code, they are simply a misjudgment. That being said if someone says something that really offends you don’t just let it pass by but please keep in mind the person did not seriously mean what they said.”
In an email written three days prior to the list, a team member posted a picture of himself lying down between two women, and wrote, “Here you’ll see me with my main bitch ***** and my side hoe *****. Also notice the bump where my penis should be. That’s my penis. The upperclassmen know not to fuck around with these two lovelies, but freshman be warned: touch either of my meat slabs and I will fucking end you. Especially *****. God knows the little one can’t protect herself.”
And the day after the apology, an incoming recruit who is now a sophomore wrote,
“If Rachel Dolezal can be president of an NAACP chapter, I can be a sophomore. […] If the Amherst football team ever plays the Redskins (not sure how that might happen, but a worthy hypothetical), the politically correct faction of campus might burn the college to the ground.”
Neither email attracted criticism.
One particular ongoing conversation in the team emails was centered on another guide for first-years, this time introducing the members of the team. The list was written by a current junior and sent out on June 10, five days prior to the “Friends of Amherst XC” list.
The guide describes a team member who is currently a captain – “Many debate what’s more disturbing: his fetish for the anus or his fetish for the Orient.” One of the jokes hinges on confusing two women of color personally known to the team. Another description suggests that a member of the team enjoys sexually pursuing children. A description of a current senior on the team reads “Sure, when you first meet him you may think: “Woah, is that dude in the trench coat going to rape me?”
The guide, shared with the team on June 10, also includes a description of a current junior who was kicked off the team during his first week at Amherst. The description reads, “to put things in perspective: there are roofies in that Rubinoff, this is a bedroom in a Umass frat house (the night before a meet), and those walls were pitch black before a kilo of [current junior]’s premium Colombian Coco left a hefty white coat on the entire room. To be honest, [current junior] really isn’t a bad guy. But much like a Bull in a China Shop, he did far too many drugs while allegedly sexually harassing a girl and got kicked off the team. But he’ll be back for indoor…. Right?” An email sent to the team on September 8, 2014 in the wake of the current junior’s dismissal from the team stated that “his actions this past weekend were only one instance of multiple questionable decisions [current junior] has made in his short time at Amherst and he has therefore shown himself to be someone we do not want in our program.”
This email received the approval of a teammate who was then a captain: “I only laughed at 29 out of 30 of your descriptions and everyone knows you need 100% approval to get into Gad’s so better luck next time.” A few days before the “Friends of Amherst XC” email, this same captain writes “Another note on getting by: the deconstruction-obsessed mutual-fellatio circle-jerk of liberalism that defines Amherst may make some of you ‘question your privilege’ that each and every one of you undoubtedly carries. This experience is somewhat uncomfortable and best avoided entirely.”
See here for our follow-up editorial: https://theindicator.amherst.edu/special-reports/editorial-after-mens-xc-email-examine-all-athlete-spaces