This morning, the Wesleyan Track Team boycotted their track meet at Amherst to protest an unfair scheduling change. The J. Elmer Swanson Invitational, an annual track meet hosted at Wesleyan, was abruptly cancelled so that the Men’s Lacrosse team could play on the turf field (the turf field was built in the middle of the track a few years ago). Members of the track team claim that the cancellation was due to the fact that many lacrosse team parents are big donors while the track team is comprised of many students receiving financial aid. Thus, the track team does not have the same financial clout. The track team sent an open letter explaining their reasoning as well as their demands for the future. I also reached out to the athletic department for comment and Athletic Director Mike Whalen’s response is below.
[Update 4/4/15 4:38pm]
I spoke to Mike Whalen ’83, the athletic director, about the track boycott. He explained to me that weather issues caused three teams—Men’s Lacrosse, Men’s and Women’s Tennis, and Men’s and Women’s Track—to need to use of the same facilities. A compromise was originally planned whereby the lacrosse game and tennis match would be played earlier in the day and the track meet would be scheduled for later. However, tennis competitor Connecticut College could not accommodate the scheduling change and NESCAC rules dictate that both teams must agree to any scheduling change. He categorically denied allegations that financial donors, or considerations of financial donors, played any role in the scheduling change. The lacrosse and tennis events were NESCAC competitions which take priority over the track meet, which is not a NESCAC competition. Even so, he explained that ultimately the decision to cancel the meet was made by track coach Walter Curry because the scheduling change did not make sense for other schools.
Here is the letter written by members of the track team:
To the Wesleyan Community,
As some of you may be aware, the J. Elmer Swanson Invitational, a home track meet that has been run annually for twenty years and involves teams from all around the east coast, has been cancelled. Instead, we were informed that we were being entered into an invitational meet at Amherst. The track team was made aware of the cancellation on April 1st, three days before the meet was originally supposed to take place. According to the Athletic Department, the cancellation is due to a scheduling conflict. Although every team’s competition schedule has been finalized since September, the men’s lacrosse game was moved to the turf field, and the men’s and women’s tennis matches were moved to the indoor track due to “inclement weather.” The lacrosse turf field was built in the center of the track last year through donations from men’s lacrosse team parents. It is a state-of-the-art facility, yet it does not even have lines for women’s lacrosse on it.
A group of junior and senior track athletes met with the Athletic Director on Friday afternoon to voice our concerns. We asked why the choice was made to cancel our competition instead of simply changing the start time of other competitions. The AD stated that to change the start time of the other competitions that had been moved to conflict with our meet because of the weather, he would have had to get the visiting schools to confirm the time change. The Athletic department valued making a phone call over canceling our 20 year running meet, one of only 2 home meets this year, and one that many of our teammates family’s and many of our alumni bought non-refundable travel tickets to come too.
We believe that this decision represents a culture within the athletic department in which the track team is continually marginalized in favor of other sports teams. This marginalization is specifically facilitated by teams that bring in substantial donor funding to the athletic department. An example of this is the money that was given to place a turf field in the middle of the track, which resulted in our team practicing at high school facilities such as Coginchaug Regional High School and Middletown High School for the entirety of our 2013 outdoor season. It is hard to miss the names of the men’s lacrosse team parent donors that sit at the entrance to the track and field complex, but it was our hope that the money donated by those parents would not result in the mistreatment of other teams that consist of more socioeconomically and racially diverse group of people who do not have the financial means to “purchase” the rights to use our track facility.
As mentioned above, on April 3rd, we met with the Athletic Department and we presented them with these arguments as well as the list of expectations and requirements that we believe all Wesleyan athletes have. We believe that these requirements have yet to be fulfilled for our team. While the athletic department was respectful and listened to us speak, we believe that we need to take a stand against our repeated marginalization. It is not this incident that is the only problem, it is the precedent that has been set, the precedent that the track and field team is considered last in the decisions made by the athletic department, the precedent that the hassle of making a phone call is worth more than the hassle of displacing hundreds of track athletes.
By attending the invitational at Amherst that we are now scheduled to attend, we would be accepting the precedent that has been in place for too long. We refuse to accept that we are worth less than a phone call. The Upperclassmen on the Wesleyan track and field team and whoever else decides to join us will not be boarding the bus to Amherst this weekend. We will by boycotting the meet in protest of the decision to cancel our meet, and the continued marginalization we feel as a team. We do however, want to run this weekend, so we will be arriving at our track before the men’s lacrosse game begins and racing together, in an unofficial meet. Many of our family members from across the country have flown in to come to the Elmer Swanson Invitational, and we refuse to force them to drive an additional two hours to watch us compete. Instead, we will be racing on our home track as originally planned. We ask that our friends and members of the Wesleyan community that support equality for all sports teams and that support the notion to end elitist institutions that privilege certain groups of people over others to come support us and cheer us on.
Lastly, it is imperative to note that while we are disappointed in the actions of the Wesleyan Athletic Department, we would still like to wish the Men’s lacrosse team luck in their game and all the other Wesleyan sports teams luck in their competitions this weekend. We wholeheartedly want to highlight our support and best wishes to the men’s lacrosse team. It is not the lacrosse team’s job to advocate for equality in Wesleyan athletics, and none of our criticisms are personal attacks towards them. It is the lacrosse team’s job, just like ours, to come out and work their hardest everyday for the sport they love, and it is the Athletic Department’s job to provide support and not get in the way of the work that all of the athletes that compete for Wesleyan are trying achieve.
The following list is what we hope will be changed from our protest of this meet.
List of Requests and Expectations as a Wesleyan Athlete
The families that purchased non-refundable travel tickets to Wesleyan for our home competition this weekend should be reimbursed for this expense through the Athletic Department’s budget.
The Wesleyan Track and Field team should have access to a practice space on our track every day when we are in season. Winter track and Spring track are two separate seasons requiring separate training facilities. During spring track it is not acceptable to train on the indoor track as it hinders our ability to prepare for outdoor events.
Conflicts between practice spaces for teams need to be addressed and mediated prior to the start of their official season.
The April 18th Wesleyan invitational should be renamed the J Elmer Swanson Invitational to honor former Coach and Wesleyan hall of famer J Elmer Swanson who was supposed to be honored at the meet this weekend.
There should be monthly meetings between all sports team captains and the Athletic Director to discuss problems, concerns, and progress.
Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972 states that no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity. Under Title 9 it is illegal for a women’s team to be repeatedly marginalized for a men’s team, especially when solutions that do not involve the repeated marginalization are available. we should have equal time on the track that they do on their field, and competitions which can only take place on that track should never be moved for lacrosse games that could take place in different locations.
Our team has the largest percentage of students on financial aid and with jobs, which makes it extremely difficult to change around our practice schedule at the last minute. If our practice schedule, which is confirmed in September, is to be changed it needs to be done before season.
The removal of snow from the men’s lacrosse turf field should not inhibit our ability to practice.
The track and field team should have access to the laundry service that all other sports teams have access to.
The track and field team should have equal access and use of the athletic injury care facilities, this means having a trainer assigned to us and having our requests for filled and not being told that we can’t use the AIC facilities such as ice baths and game ready.
The athletic director should represent all sports equally and should make an effort to attend our competitions, especially when our athletes make it to the national championships.