Bridging the Gap: Rethinking “Athlete Privilege”

The ongoing athlete vs. non-athlete divide continues to plague Middlebury’s campus. Despite the fact that 27% of the student body participates in varsity sports, including 200 students who compete in more than one varsity sport, when it comes to athletics at Middlebury, our community is far from united. Unlike at other schools such as Syracuse, Duke or UNC, in which students with differing interests and backgrounds bleed their respective schools’ athletic pride, the athletic fan-base at Middlebury consists almost entirely of athletes supporting other athletes. Why is this the case? “Athlete-privilege”, of course.

What is this “athlete-privilege” that we speak of on Middlebury’s campus?

While people may view the term differently — here, we will discuss “athlete-privilege” as the idea that athletes at Middlebury are favored over non-athletes and held to their own standard — one that involves academic loopholes and personal entitlements. While this case could be made for recruited athletes who had slightly different benchmarks to reach (depending on the sport) during the college application process, upon acceptance, all students at Middlebury are held to the same academic standard — athlete or not. This is what we tell ourselves; however, we know this is not the case.

Being an athlete at Middlebury comes with a price. Whether people want to talk about it or not, athletes are held to a different standard than non-athletes, one that comes with disadvantages and a stigma that is particularly evident in the classroom. Countless times, I have heard the excuse: “It’s just because he’s an athlete”, as if the title of being an athlete at Middlebury comes on a silver platter. While I agree there are many personal benefits of being an athlete, reasons why I continue to play a sport here, the role itself comes with many disadvantages.

Just to name a few: (1) Athletes have far fewer hours to balance work with demanding practice and game schedules (roughly 20 hours a week on average). (2) There are some professors who have issues with athletes in their classes (keep in mind I said some not all). (3) Many varsity-sporting events such as away games occur during the school week. As a result, at least once during a season, it is common to have a match or race that conflicts with a class period. In this case, arrangements are met to find a time to make up what was missed.

One of my first encounters with this so-called “athlete privilege” occurred my freshman spring. We were traveling to Gettysburg College for the Women’s Lacrosse NCAA tournament during the finals period. Not only would I be missing my exam slot for my Spanish class, but I would also be on a noisy, rattling bus for 8 hours en route to our final destination at the time. As was normal protocol, I explained the situation to my professor, insisting that I would do anything to accommodate his needs & take the exam on his terms. A new professor at the time, he had not yet encountered a situation like mine.

Ultimately, he decided that since I could not be physically present, to be fair, I would take the exam at the exact same time as the rest of my class on the bus, proctored by the school’s athletic director. While this may be an easy task for someone who is able to perform under pressure with distractions around them, I am someone who needs to work in complete silence. Yes — I’m that girl in the library who will “Shhh” you if you are being loud.

Regardless of my test-taking preferences, however, I had no choice but to roll with the punches and take the exam on the bus because I signed up to be an athlete here and because of that, I am willing to pay the price.

I’m not saying that there are more disadvantages of playing a sport here than there are advantages. Nor am I suggesting that non-athletes and professors should pity athletes who have limited schedules and fewer hours to get their work done. I am commenting on the divide that exists within our community and urging us to recognize the pressing issue as we carelessly toss around “athlete-privilege” in our everyday repartee.

Where is our Middlebury pride? Athlete or not, we are all here to be students and for that reason, we should come together to celebrate our common interests such as why we are here and why we love Middlebury. I am encouraging us to ask more of ourselves, to be understanding of each other’s hobbies and passions — and ultimately, I hope that as we move our separate ways, we will always be proud to have worn the Middlebury navy and white as students — athlete or not.

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