LTE: A Response to ‘Men’s, Women’s Club Lacrosse Teams Receive Postseason Ban, Disciplinary Action for Themed Party’

Last week, the Gavel published an article regarding the men’s and women’s club lacrosse teams’ postseason ban. Over the last couple months, we have worked closely with both teams as they begin to address the underlying issues that contributed to their actions. With this response, we aim to provide information and context that the original article lacked.

To begin, the party’s theme did not require partygoers to dress up by “adhering to either black hip-hop stereotypes, or a white country music theme.” Instead, the party theme was advertised as “Black Entertainment Television (BET) vs. Country Music Television (CMT).” Pictures of the party on social media and our conversations with members of the team revealed that this theme was interpreted not as an opportunity to dress as favorite characters or celebrities on either network, but instead as a chance to dress as stereotypes of blackness or rural whiteness. In our discussion, we will focus specifically on representations of blackness, as this was the option chosen by the overwhelming majority of attendees.

In photos from the event, it is clear that partygoers equated BET with a conception of blackness that included only “thugs”, gangs, rap and basketball. An Instagram photo geotagged “in the ‘hood” revealed women accessorized with gold chains throwing up gang signs, their hair in cornrows, wearing sagging pants or shorts stuffed with butt padding. Images like this reveal the ways in which the party’s theme resulted in an offensive and one-dimensional understanding of black culture. Outfits chosen for the party ignored the diversity of the black community and limited blackness to harmful stereotypes that affirm racist understandings of both black people and black culture in our society. As a result, partygoers contributed to creating a hostile environment here at BC.

According to the Boston College Office for Institutional Diversity, hostile environment harassment may occur whenever someone’s offensive conduct has the effect of interfering with another’s performance. For example, words or behaviors that put down an individual by insulting an aspect of the person’s identity (race, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, etc.) can create a hostile work or study environment. If a student feels threatened or unsafe merely by being on campus, those feelings will directly impact not only his or her academic performance, but also his or her BC experience. Seeing fellow students put on and mock stereotypes of one’s racial identity is harmful and dehumanizing. Events like this party create a hostile and unwelcoming environment on our campus. They can contribute to feelings of isolation, voicelessness, and marginalization for students of color who are an integral part of our BC community. Events like these are completely unacceptable.

The very idea of dressing up as a member of any oppressed racial group has problematic implications. Putting on blackness, as was the case at the lacrosse party, calls to mind a long and troubling history of harmful parodying and undermining of black culture and lived black experiences, such as performers using blackface. Similar parties on college campuses throughout the country have shown the same characteristics: white students choosing damaging, stereotypical images of blackness and wearing them as costumes for a night in order enjoy, laugh at, and mock these images. For black men and women, the realities of racism are not something one can simply put on and take off, but something lived every day.

After seeing social media posts about the party and being informed of it by team members, FACES reached out to the captains of the lacrosse teams. We appreciate that the captains of both teams met with us to discuss the party and their plan of action in response to it. In these meetings, we agreed to lead a discussion with the teams about the party and greater representations of blackness in the media. Both teams were engaged and actively participated in an important and helpful discussion. They created a long-term plan to share similar discussions of race and systemic racism with other club and varsity sports, in addition to taking on more service opportunities as a team. We support their efforts to spread awareness and we encourage other teams to take an active role in increasing their understanding of issues of systemic racism. Despite working closely with both teams in engaging in education dialogue, FACES was not involved in the sanctioning or disciplinary action process. Our role was that of an educator, which we believe to be of the utmost importance.

Regardless of the sanctions the teams did receive, however, it is important that Boston College as an institution acknowledges the role it played in the events that occurred. Ultimately, the party was a manifestation of an absence of awareness and discussion about systemic racism on college campuses throughout the nation, something we must actively address here at BC. Going forward as a community, FACES calls for institutional action to ensure education regarding systemic racism is a part of the student experience at BC. This would go a long way in preventing insensitive events like this party on our campus in the future. It is not solely the responsibility of BC students as individuals to educate themselves around systemic racism. We as an institution dedicated to caring for the whole person and producing women and men for others must take this calling seriously and engage with socially constructed systems of oppression that affect us all. Diversity and inclusion education must go beyond one discussion at freshman orientation. These conversations need to continue during freshman year and throughout one’s Boston College experience.

The ways BC can take action include, but are not limited to: requiring educational programming on issues of systemic racism for all student organizations, varsity sports, and club sports teams; hiring more faculty of color; further and more meaningfully incorporating issues of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and ability into the core curriculum; sponsoring residence hall discussions and other campus events on issues of race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and ability; and issuing thoughtful statements from administration regarding current events that promote and encourage students to engage themselves in conversations surrounding these issues. FACES calls on Boston College as a community to consider these ways in which we can further education and awareness of systemic oppression, specifically systemic racism. Together, we must work towards a reality where all students can feel safe, welcomed, and included on this campus.

- FACES Council