‘Cruel and hateful’ online messaging leads Amherst College to suspend men’s cross country team

  • Amherst College campus

Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 13, 2016

AMHERST — A series of email and social media exchanges between members of the Amherst College men’s cross country team in which derogatory comments were made toward women and racial minorities is prompting the suspension of all team activities pending an investigation.

Statements published on the college’s website Sunday from Amherst College President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin and Athletic Director Donald Faulstick indicate that the decision came following publication of an article online in “The Indicator,” which bills itself as the college’s “student-run commentary magazine since 1848.”

In her communication, Martin wrote that the article revealed that members of the team, between June 2013 and August 2015, violated college principles, as well as concepts of decency and respect.

“The messages are appalling,” Martin wrote. “They are not only vulgar, they are cruel and hateful. No attempt to rationalize them will change that. My reaction is one of profound sadness, disappointment, and anger.”

Faulstick describes the messages as “racist, misogynist and homophobic.”

“The exchanges and the behavior described in the article, which team members acknowledge, are disgusting. They have no place on our sports teams or anywhere at our college,” Faulstick wrote.

“The Indicator” article states that players, in a private forum for “Friends of Amherst XC,” wrote comments that lists the sexual histories and proclivities of female students, describing one woman as “a walking STD” and two other women as “meatslabs.” There are also comments about people of Asian and African descent.

The article goes on to say that some members of the team apologized for going “overboard” and making “horribly exaggerated” comments, but many of the messages were posted with no response.

The team responded to the article in a statement to the Indicator on Monday.

In it, the team acknowledges a “toxic culture” and apologizes for the remarks.

“There are no words to justify what was said and we are all responsible for the harm inflicted by our team’s comments. We are embarrassed and ashamed by what was said by some members of our team. We can never minimize the impact of these comments and sincerely apologize to the groups and individuals directly targeted,” it read. “We aim to hold ourselves to high standards of respect, but we have fallen painfully short. Criticism is appropriate and deserved.”

The statement acknowledges conversations about the emails and posts have taken place and takes accountability.

“We still have a long way to go, and all current members of our team are committed to being a part of the solution to issues that have plagued us. As a team and as individuals we do not want to hide from any of this,” the team wrote. “We are all accountable for what has been said and how we improve in the future.”

Amherst’s cross country season ended Nov. 19 at the NCAA Division III Championship, but every cross country team member except one also competes for the college’s indoor track and field team, according to college spokeswoman Caroline Hanna in an email.

They will be suspended from those track activities, including competition and practice while an investigation and independent legal counsel is carried out, Hanna said.

The decision to suspend team activities, pending an investigation, come on the heels of a decision by Harvard University to cancel the remaining games in the 2016 men’s soccer season after players were discovered creating a rating system of women’s soccer players based on their sexual appeal and attractiveness.

Staff Writer Kyle Grabowski contributed to this report. Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.