Letter to the Editor – Solidarity at Starr Rink

Doug Johnson: Associate Dean of the Faculty

Having taught at Colgate since 1996, one of the challenges I have faced has been teaching students to maximize the extent to which they can generalize knowledge acquired from specific learning events. Obviously this difficulty is not limited to students or the classroom, as the message delivered Wednesday at the Chapel was not generalized by all of us. On Thursday, November 13, the Colgate community had the opportunity to see Division 1 hockey at its finest, and the energy in Starr Rink was palpable.

The athletics department did a wonderful job with careful planning and creative programming. That said, programming, however good, cannot control fan behavior. I took my son (who is 10) to the game knowing that he would be exposed to language and treatment of others that would be on the rougher end of the spectrum.

While I generally support the idea of positive cheering, I freely admit that the occasional “Goalie, Sieve” chant makes me laugh. The few “f-bombs” that landed on my son’s ears? Well, I took him to an arena full of adults, some of whom had been imbibing, so I knew the risks (plus he’s been in the car with me in traffic…).

What left me confused Thursday, one day after a solidarity event on our campus, was when an opposing player was down on the ice and the chant of “pussy” filled Starr Rink (with the audible “vagina” tossed in a few times). Not once, and not by one or two people. As a psychologist, I know my son is always learning, as are all of us.

What was the lesson that evening? The young men and women closer in age to him than I am, whom he looks up to, clearly sent the message that an injured human who shows pain deserves disdain. And, now he also knows what label to use for that human, even as it denigrates his mother, sister and, I’d argue, all of us. I’m sure he’ll also soon understand, if he does not already, the relationship between these labels and societal values regarding sexual orientation.

Everyone in the rink learned something that evening, both by what happened and what did not happen. We were learning how “men” are to behave, that if you are not a “man” by this definition that you have attributes of a “woman,” and that this is an insult. We likely learned something about mainstream thoughts regarding sexual orientation.

For those of us who did not speak out to those around us, or witness others doing so, we also learned that all of the above is acceptable. My son wasn’t there Wednesday at the Chapel, but many in the crowd Thursday were, including myself. The message I heard in the Chapel requires that I generalize and think about my behavior in a broader context.

While I did not chant, I also did not turn around and say anything to the individual behind me who was chanting “pussy” to a motionless person down on the ice. For that I am ashamed and realize I have some real generalizing to do, as well as reminding myself that errors of omission can be as costly as errors of commission. Based on our behavior as group at Starr Rink on Thursday, I am not alone.