I came to Yale because I was convinced that it fosters community in a way that few of its peer institutions can. To a large degree, Yale has lived up to that promise. Like many of my peers here, I count among my closest friends musicians, aspiring doctors, theater majors and — yes — student-athletes. Each and every one of those people has enriched my time here in a way I didn’t think possible, yet I fear that there is a non-negligible minority of students who miss out on this opportunity to learn from people with vastly different passions, talents and perspectives. And that is a downright shame.
Every few years, we hear about how athletes “don’t deserve to be here.” How they’re “not as smart as their classmates.” How they are “taking spots away from more deserving students.” And fortunately, every few years we hear a flurry of replies, from student-athletes, nonathletes, coaches and faculty members alike, about how that is simply not the case. How there is virtually no better way to learn teamwork, leadership and perseverance — qualities that a place like Yale rightfully prizes — than to sweat it out, on the court or on the field, for hour upon hour, year after year. As a nonathlete, I don’t presume to speak for my student-athlete peers. Nor do I have to — many have written far more powerfully and eloquently on this topic than I ever could, and I won’t rehash those arguments here. But I do want reflect on the impact that this sort of discourse has on our community, and how we move forward from here.
Let’s start with a simple fact: The implication that by virtue of being a student-athlete, you are somehow less smart or less qualified is plainly offensive. It’s the sort of broad-brush generalization that would be quite frankly unthinkable if directed at any other group of students at Yale. And it’s also not true. Student-athletes face stringent academic scrutiny upon applying to Yale, and their success at Yale and beyond — despite the additional time commitment that nonathletes can scarcely imagine — is a testament not only to their discipline and resolve but also to their preparedness and intellect. For many student-athletes, the academic rigor of Yale is what draws them here in the first place, even when they may have received scholarship offers from other institutions. A Yale that seeks excellence — even excellence that is narrowly and mistakenly defined as strictly intellectual — would only damage itself if it stopped admitting these student-athletes.
It’s time that we, and future generations of Yalies, disabuse ourselves of the fiction that athletes don’t contribute something vital to the Yale community. I like to think that Yale’s commitment to “diversity in all its forms” is more than a slogan to stamp on brochures — it’s a fundamental part of the Yale spirit. When we don’t buy into each and every Yalie’s rightful claim to be here, we fail to realize the full potential of this place.
Thankfully, I think the majority of students understand this, and many are already working toward building a more cohesive Yale. YCC has convened a student athletics task force to tackle issues related to varsity sports, including the integration of athletes and nonathletes. Student-athletes remain involved in all sorts of community service efforts, such as the annual Mandi Schwartz Marrow Donor Registration Drive. And student organizations like The Whaling Crew aim not only for rowdy student sections at games but also for a broader sense of community at Yale. And athletic contests themselves remain perhaps the greatest of all venues for building this sense of community — just ask any of the hundreds of Yalies, from all walks of student life, who leapt down onto the field at Harvard Stadium after The Game this year, exulting in a moment of shared ecstasy and pride.
Ultimately, Yale is stronger when we focus on what unites us, rather than what divides us. I’ve been using the terms “student-athlete” and “nonathlete” constantly throughout this piece, but the truth is that these labels hardly ever come up in typical conversation because they don’t even begin to define who and what we are. Yale is not a place where you need to fit into any one box, and it’s certainly not a place where anyone should be able to force you into one. The more that Yalies recognize this fact, the closer we will be to fulfilling the promise of a community that truly embraces and profits from our differences.
Adam Lowet is a junior in Ezra Stiles college, President of The Whaling Crew, and a member of the YCC student athletics task force. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .