Not a Game Anymore

A recent investigation by the Harvard Crimson revealed that in 2012, Harvard Men’s Soccer produced a “scouting report” on the freshman class of female soccer players. Members of the men’s soccer team wrote and circulated this report, which described freshman women in sexually explicit terms and assessed them on the basis of their appearance. Even worse, an investigation by Harvard’s Office of the General Counsel disclosed that the team has continued to produce such reports every year, including in 2016.

As members of Our Harvard Can Do Better, a student organization dedicated to dismantling rape culture on campus, we are appalled but unfortunately not surprised by these revelations. The reports are indicative of a broader campus culture of male entitlement to women’s bodies, in which nearly one third of Harvard women are sexually assaulted during their time here. We first extend our sympathies to the women of Harvard’s soccer who have been treated in this appalling manner. Furthermore, while we are heartened by President Drew Faust’s decision to suspend the team, we continue to demand that the University demonstrate its genuine commitment to cultural change through further action, both punitive and preventative.

These reports cannot help but recall the tapes of Donald Trump bragging to Billy Bush about sexually assaulting women, kissing them without consent and “grabbing them by the pussy”. Both cases are troubling evidence of men refusing to hold each other accountable and instead bonding over the sexual objectification of women. Rather than shutting down this inappropriate conduct, for instance, one soccer player responded to the report by writing “hahahahaha well done.” Over the last four years, members of the team appear to have never questioned the practice, and it was not until after the team was suspended that current players came forward to apologize for their complicity. Evidently, male-dominated spaces create opportunities for discussions of women that would elsewhere be censored.

As the six members of the 2012 Harvard Women's Soccer class wrote, “having considered members of [the men’s team] our close friends for the past four years, we are beyond hurt to realize these individuals could encourage, silently observe, or participate in this kind of behavior, and for more than four years have neglected to apologize until this week.” It is frightening that men on the team maintained friendships with women players about whom they spoke and wrote in this extremely disrespectful manner. Unfortunately, this behavior reflects attitudes whose impacts are rarely limited to men-only spaces. Donald Trump does not only talk about sexually assaulting women; he faces numerous allegations of having actually done so. Similarly, sexual assault is pervasive on Harvard’s campus; it seems likely that the privileged social position of male athletes fosters this situation.

Part of our response to this revelation should be an increased skepticism about the role of male-only spaces on campus. Yet we should also work to change the standards of behavior within such spaces. We stand by the women’s soccer team in calling on men to hold each other accountable. We hope that the men’s soccer team was sincere in their pledge to “confront the issues of sexism and misogyny within our own locker room.” Meanwhile, we also call on Harvard to hold its student-athletes, who are often the public face of the university, to a higher standard of behavior.

In particular, the soccer team’s apology is appropriate, but should not grant them amnesty. In order to secure justice for the women mentioned in these reports and to demonstrate Harvard’s commitment to its sexual assault policy, the Title IX office and Ad Board should take significant punitive action against any individual students found to be complicit in the production of these reports. Such action would demonstrate that membership in a group does not excuse one’s actions, and encourage more students to hold their organizations accountable for traditions that are inconsistent with Harvard’s policies and values.

Additionally, the culture of male bonding over the sexual objectification of women, as seen in these reports, is more than sexist—it is an environment that normalizes sexual violence. We agree with Director of Athletics Robert L. Scalise that “these things exist in our society” and therefore, most likely, on other Harvard sports teams. Already, recently released documents have exposed a similar practice on the men’s cross-country team. We therefore strongly recommend that Mr. Scalise make participation in Harvard sports conditional on sexual consent trainings (from CARE, OSAPR, or the Boston Rape Crisis Center, for instance) for all athletes. Such trainings would be a starting point for a broader cultural shift within Harvard male athletics.

This report is certainly symptomatic of larger problems, on campus and across the nation as a whole. Yet there is good reason to attend to this case as more than just a “valuable lesson” in what not to do. Our efforts to publicly condemn rape-enabling attitudes should start here, and now.


Amelia Y. Goldberg ’19 lives in Adams House. She is an organizer of Our Harvard Can Do Better.

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