By Erin Papakostas ’23 and Katie Stewart ’23, Staff Writers
To Davidson students, the baseball team’s reputation on campus reflects players’ involvement with many reported incidents of misconduct.
Phoebe Son Oh ‘22 experienced the baseball team’s misconduct firsthand. She was walking to her dorm in the evening last December, listening to music through one headphone. She says she saw a group of guys approaching from the opposite direction and saw they were wearing baseball merch. As they drew closer, the guys began snickering in Phoebe’s direction. Just before Phoebe passed them, one of the boys approached her closely and yelled “Ni hao!”
Phoebe, who is not Chinese, was in shock. She said her fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, so instead of confronting them in the moment, she removed herself from the situation as quickly as possible.
After this racist encounter with the baseball players, Son Oh quickly contacted Dre Domingue, the Assistant Dean of Diversity Inclusion, baseball team coach Rucker Taylor, and the Davidson Microaggressions Project.
She promptly heard back from Taylor, who told her that he had spoken to the team about the incident. While this interaction left her feeling hopeful that he would identify the responsible members of the team, she said that was the last time she heard from Taylor.
She found her meeting with Dean Domingue similarly unhelpful and frustrating. As Son Oh could not identify the names of the perpetrators, the Dean told her that they would have to close her case.
“She […] didn’t even really give me the space to push back against that either,” Son Oh said. “I didn’t even get any sort of concrete answer except for a kick out the door […] I think the most frustrating thing is that our school is so small. And if we are such a tight-knit community, then why would we not be able to identify the person who did this?”
Son Oh shared her experience on social media, after which multiple members of the baseball team reached out to Son Oh to apologize and ask what actions they could take in order to make amends.
While she was happy to provide the team with readings that could help them in their effort to become anti-racist, she pointed out that it was tiring for her.
“It was just more labor on my part when I had already felt exacerbated by the situation that I experienced with them,” she said. “But that being said, [I] definitely did find closure because so many of the players genuinely apologized and kind of took that moment of me calling them out to realize like okay, there actually is something wrong that I partook in.”
In May, player misconduct continued online. After the murder of George Floyd and surging protests around the country, the Arts at Davidson Instagram account, run by Adelle Patten ‘21, became a platform to protest through art.
On June 5th, the Instagram account posted a piece entitled “8 minutes and 46 seconds” by Makayla Binter ‘20. Accompanying the art was a collaborative letter written by recent graduates addressed to Davidson, calling the college out for its silence concerning racial justice and providing potential steps for action in the future.
In the comments section of the post, baseball player Trey Donathan ‘23 wrote:
“When you attempt to impute guilt to people who do not repeat your preferred formulations is utterly insane and ideologically tyrannical especially when referring to actions of their ancestors. This is a dangerous statement because in several countries around the world people are being jailed for crimes they personally have not done and their parents or ancestors have done. This kind of thinking is what leads to that kind of evil.”
Others quickly reacted to his words and left their own comments on the Instagram post, many of which aimed to educate Donathan about white privilege.
Jared Lindo ‘21, for instance, wrote:
“The point is that no one’s saying that you are personally committing the same actions of your ancestors but that the damage of your ancestors is still felt and still opens the door to privileges for white people at the expense of those who [are] of [a] marginalized identity. The true evil lies in acting like those damages and benefits don’t exist, and acting as if systematic racism is supposed to be the norm […].”
When Son Oh spoke out about Donathan’s comments, Donathan — who went to high school with Son Oh — messaged her and claimed she was slandering him.
“[Trey] started harassing me over social media about calling out the baseball team, which was ironic because […] his own teammates had reached out to me already and apologized to me. He accused me of slander, [saying] this didn’t happen, [and] just a lot of gaslighting going on,” Son Oh said.
She took these messages to Athletic Director Chris Clunie.
Donathan was unable to respond to comment for personal reasons.
PPGA Petition Garners Community Action
After the debate in the Instagram comments, Davidson’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action released a petition on June 8th addressing the baseball team’s misconduct. Maya Tetali ‘21 and Grace Colley ‘21 worked to craft the PPGA petition, which received about 700 signatures from the Davidson College community.
“Our first goal was just to have people sign on to this and even highlight [the situation] for those who didn’t know that this was an issue, and then obviously get the attention of the administration and the baseball team,” Colley said.
Since the petition’s release, Colley said, “We have [had] a lot of stories coming in, anecdotal responses, from a lot of students about their personal experiences with the baseball team. A lot of it was not only people affirming that this was an issue by signing on, but also direct messaging us and being like, ‘this is my experience.’”
Support for the petition went beyond what Tetali expected. “I thought maybe we would get 250 to 500 signatures, which would be about between one eighth and one fourth of the school,” she said.
“Everyone knows that the baseball team has done things and caused harm in the past and don’t necessarily have a really positive, safe team culture. But no one has done anything about it,” Tetali said. “It’s just gotten increasingly frustrating each time.”
Alex Aiello ‘21 was also involved in the initial conversations surrounding the petition in order to bring to light the history of misconduct allegations against the baseball team. She acknowledged the goal of the petition could take different forms.
“One goal might have been just to end Davidson Baseball. But I mean, another is what [the team is] doing, like education and taking responsibility for the harm they caused,” Aiello said.
PPGA seeks a restorative justice approach in their actions towards the baseball team and plans to continue conversations with Clunie and Coach Taylor. In particular, Tetali is hesitant to perpetuate cancel culture.
She stated, “I think we also have to be super mindful of that idea of just dismissing people […] without allowing for that change to happen. Because if we just pass that judgment, then what was the point of us even trying to start the conversation?”
Davidson College President Carol Quillen echoed the goal of restorative justice when talking about Davidson College’s mission.
“I would say that our primary mission here is educational, and that, the more we learn at Davidson about principles of restorative justice and repairing harm, acknowledging and repairing harm seems to be a really important part of any education process. And so I think I would think about it in that way,” President Quillen said. ”What does it mean in a community to genuinely acknowledge harm done, and to then work hard to repair that harm, in a way that can restore trust within a community?”
“There are people that are on the baseball team that have been involved in some really bad things,” Clunie said. “That doesn’t make the baseball team as a whole bad. However, by them not speaking out on those issues and those incidences, that makes them complicit.”
He continued, “And that’s the culture that needs to change. I take accountability for allowing it to happen under my watch.”
“If we want to continue a more safe culture at Davidson, then those of us who are able have to let the baseball team understand what they did was wrong and show how they’re going to change,” Tetali said. “We’re all inhabiting the same space on campus together. We can’t make it a more hostile environment..”
Lindo agreed, considering whether punitive measures would counteract their intended effect. “Will the suspension warrant a degree of resentment towards marginalized groups from Trey? I think the more appropriate move would be education, absorption, a degree of discomfort, but overall movement towards progress,” he said.
Baseball Team Responds
On June 9th, the Davidson baseball team released a statement to the college community apologizing for players’ actions and listing a plan of action for the future. Their statement opens with this message:
“The Davidson College baseball team sincerely apologizes to members of our community for the recent actions of team members that failed to live up to our community’s commitment of support for each other and to Davidson’s values of honoring the dignity and worth of every human being.”
The statement cited certain reported incidents involving members of the team. References included a Zoom bomb, where an uninvited student crashed a Zoom class with a disruptive and highly racist agenda, a racial insult toward a Davidson student in December, and “unproductive conversations” from a team member on Instagram.
The statement reads, “Frankly put—our culture needs to change and we as individuals need to change. We own that and everything that comes with it.”
This response appeared dissatisfactory for the Davidson audience.
To Anthropology Professor Dr. Helen Cho, “The statement rings hollow, incredibly naïve, and superficial, and none of the said activities would take place had it not been for the petition.”
She also found the statement difficult to access. “In order to find the statement, I had to quickly scroll through the team’s Twitter handle,” she said. “Other than the tweet with the statement and a retweet of Davidson Athletics, there’s nothing about the atrocities, violence, racism, [or] injustices that [are] happening now. It’s a typical pattern and a typical statement and just leaves me shaking my head.”
The team’s phrasing choices also raised concerns. Dr. Kevin Smith, a Biology professor at Davidson, took issue with language that avoided accountability.
“They start out by saying some baseball players apologized for these racist acts. But they never said who actually did those racist acts. The first thing that has to happen if people are really good to move forward and learn and be better is taking responsibility,” Dr. Smith said. “I don’t fault them for what they’re doing. I think they’re doing the right thing. But […] completing the first step requires taking full responsibility.”
Dr. Cho was similarly wary: “Verbiage like “politically charged” and “unproductive conversation” makes me nauseous; it protects the feelings of the bigots by not naming it: racism and racists.”
Others questioned the legitimacy of the baseball team’s promise to read the books listed in their statement. “The supplementary education on these social issues becomes necessary, and that has to be guided, and it has to be held accountable and done in good faith rather than just putting out a list of books and saying ‘here, y’all can read this,’” Lindo said.
To Lindo, the baseball team’s statement only addressed quick solutions to appease the public. He questioned, “Who’s going to make sure that information sticks, especially if there’s already been consistent issues regarding the baseball team?”
President Quillen, however, thought that reading was a good step for the baseball team as long as members were truly willing to commit to personal growth.
“I think a lot depends on the desire to learn from what one reads and a genuine interest in cultivating in oneself a kind of empathy and understanding and self awareness that would lead us to change our behavior,” President Quillen said. “It gives us the tools we need to analyze ourselves and the world around us, which is the first step towards changing one’s behavior.”
Davidson students said the baseball team’s engagement with racist behavior jeopardizes their sense of wellbeing. These threats also tie to a history of sexual assault allegations against members from the team. Two incidents made regional news: In 2017, two players faced charges for separate assaults, one in February and the other in August of the same year.
At the bottom of the team’s recent statement, a short phrase reads, “An online petition refers to an allegation from three years ago against someone who is no longer on the team and who did not play for the rest of that season.”
Colley faulted the baseball team for disregarding the sexual assault allegation from 2017. “I personally didn’t like the way that they dismissed the sexual assault allegations and the way that that case particularly was handled.”
The statement does not address any other allegations of sexual misconduct against the baseball team.
For Michele Manceaux ‘20, change must come from the coaching staff. “They’ve been there for years, and they know what Davidson is about. So for them to not be more strict about the rules, or have rules in place, is kind of absurd,” she said.
In response, Clunie laid out specific steps he hopes will bring change. “We are charging each team with action across three areas: education, culture, and community outreach […] moving forward as part of their team culture,” he said.
According to Clunie, the coaches’ efforts toward this call for action will be part of their performance evaluation.
“I just want everybody to know that I, we, are embracing this full on. For me, this is personal,” he added.“When you’re an [athletics director] and an alum and a Black man, it’s even that much more personal.”
When The Davidsonian requested an interview, head baseball coach Rucker Taylor stated in an email, “Our staff and I support the team’s message from last week and their efforts to fulfill their obligations to support every member of the community.” He declined to comment further.
Similarly, the Athletic Department Communications declined the opportunity for specific team members to comment. Their email stated, “Back in June, the scholar-athletes worked together on a team statement, with the understanding that it would serve as their collective voice on the matter. With that in mind, they have no further comments.”
The Davidson Community Seeks Action
Tetali feels the administration often lets athletes’ actions slide. She stated, “We cannot deny that [athletic teams] have somewhat of a clout on campus, and [students] experience a social hierarchy [where] if you’re on an athletic team, you do feel emboldened to other things. And so the administration often bats an eye at it and doesn’t really get involved.”
After Son Oh’s experience with the team, she said it became shockingly clear to her that the players used power dynamics to harm her: she was walking alone in the dark, whereas the players were walking in a group.
“I just felt […] extremely powerless in that moment and defeated, and I did for a long time after,” she said.
Some worry that the Davidson administration’s lack of response toward these issues is purposeful.
Tetali questioned, “Does [the baseball team’s] winning record matter more than the fact that multiple people on this campus feel unsafe because of the culture of the team?”
“At what point do we advocate for the betterment of campus culture versus betterment for Davidson’s pockets,” Lindo wondered.”Where [do] Davidson’s priorities lie regarding that?”
On Twitter, Dr. Cho responded to a tweet from Colley on racism at Davidson. She commented a series of emojis ranging from a tennis ball to a piece of parchment. Dr. Cho explained the significance of the emojis.
“Racism is beyond the baseball team. Students of color have shared racis[t] incidents in tennis, football, lacrosse, physics, chemistry, economics, etc. The emojis were an attempt to represent systemic racism and institutional racism that spans academic departments and athletic teams,” she said.
Clunie acknowledged that the athletic department and college need to take more action collectively. “We’ve just got to be better; we’ve got to be full blown anti-racist, we’ve got to be full blown anti-discriminatory, we’ve got to be full blown all about racial justice and equality and understanding what privileges [are].”
Manceaux hopes educational efforts extend beyond the baseball team and become ingrained in Davidson curriculum.
“I don’t understand how you can be in such an elite institution and just not take classes about antiracism and stuff like that. Hopefully there could be some educational transformation,” she said.
“At the very end of the day, [the administration] operate[s] to work with and serve the student body,” Lindo said. “Don’t just release a statement without some degree of accountability.”
Students have taken measures into their own hands to improve the campus community for all Davidson students.
“The work is being done at Davidson,” Clunie said, “meaning there are a lot of groups, organizations, platforms, initiatives, speakers, lectures that speak to this work. But too often, it’s people of color and a few white people, and the people that should be involved in them are not.”
Son Oh offered her advice for the baseball team. “The most important thing is that they have to confront their own issues with racial bias and white supremacy and misogyny and all these different things that overlap and intertwine with each other,” she said.
She believes that in majority-white spaces, people need to think about how their actions contribute to exclusionary or toxic environments. She does not want people to sit in their guilt, but rather to think intentionally about how to support authentic justice and inclusion for every student at Davidson.
Lindo worries that the momentum to fight racism will fade without an active effort on behalf of students demanding change.
“Conversation will just flitter out and we’ll be back at square one, which is a consistent Davidson issue,” he said.
As Davidson students prepare for classes this fall, many are eager to see major changes concerning the culture of the baseball team. As Lindo pointedly observed, the question remains: “So, where do we go from here?”