The Mills College soccer team scored a new goal on March 12 when the National Collegiate Athletics Association voted to expand protection against harassment on the soccer field.
The Oct. 28, 2006 match against Menlo College marked a turn of events for the team. The players accused their opponents of harassing them with homophobic and sexist names as well as racial slurs, according to Mills Director of Athletics Themy-Jo Adachi.
There were several players on Menlo’s team who harassed the Mills athletes, but one player was particularly adamant, calling Mills athletes “f*****g bitch[es],” and “f*****g dykes,” according to Mills sophomore and soccer player Ixquel Sarin.
The player also allegedly told Mills players to “go back to [their] lesbian school.”
Despite complaints made by the players and Mills Head Soccer Coach Colette Bowler to the referee and Menlo College’s coach, Owen Flannery, no action was taken.
“[Bower] did speak to the [Menlo] coach, who then spoke to his players,” said senior Erica Worthington, a team member whose injury took her out of game. “The team responded with laughter, not the solemnness you’d expect from being told to respect others.”
The rules did not offer the Mills team much recourse.
Adachi said that the judges could arbitrarily determine which insults were a serious offense worthy of ejection from the game and which words only deserve a warning.
The previous rule for ejection was “abusive, threatening, or obscene language, behavior or conduct.”
Because they were unable to remove the offending players from the field, the Cyclones options were to finish the game, or to have Bowler pull the players from the game – a forfeit for the Mills players.
“I was fine with doing that. I wanted to remove myself from that situation. There’s no way to continue with a game feeling completely humiliated and degraded,” said Sarin. “Nothing can prepare you for that moment. When you’re the victim of that kind of violence, the immediate reaction is shock.”
Adachi said that after the alleged harassments took place, she, Bowler and members of the soccer team met with then Dean of Students Joanna Iwata, Director of Student Diversity Programs Gina Rosabal and President Janet Holmgren.
“We were extremely supported by the Mills administration,” said Adachi, and it was that support that enabled the progress of change to begin. Along with letters to Menlo College’s President and Athletic Director, President Holmgren made personal calls to Menlo’s President, Dr. Timothy Haight.
“We didn’t think it we were doing something monumental. It was just the atmosphere was disgusting [at that game] – you could smell the violence,” said Sarin. “We discussed it as a team, and we wanted to do something about it.”
Menlo did an internal investigation, and submitted a letter provided by Adachi from Menlo’s Athletic Director, Caitlin Collier:
“While some of the claims made by the Mills College athletes may be exaggerated, and could not be corroborated by our players, coaches or game events staff, there is no place for verbal intimidation, harassment, profanity in the college athletic setting. I am highly disappointed such things may have occurred and would like to apologize.”
Collier, when asked by The Weekly, did not directly comment about the rule change, but did say, “there were allegations of harassment.”
Menlo and Mills College both belong to the California Pacific Conference, a regional college athletics league in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Mills is also a member of NCAA.
“I’m very proud of Mills College students for not just getting up and retaliating on the field, recognizing that what happened to them was not an isolated incident but was something that needed to be addressed on a much larger scale,” said Adachi about the lack of protection across the nation against harassment.
The students changed legislation in the NCAA and Cal Pac rulebook for the type of behavior that will get a soccer player ejected from a game. After petitioning and presenting to the NCAA rules change committee and Cal Pac, the rule has been changed to any “hostile or abusive language or harassment that refers to race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or national origin or other abusive threatening or obscene language, behavior, or conduct.”
A player who engages in this behavior on the field must be ejected, which means that he or she cannot play for the remainder of that game and the next competition.
“This creates sufficient motivation for a coach because if a player is ejected, they have to play short and outnumbered . it has a big consequence and therefore big motivation to make sure this kind of offensive behavior doesn’t happen on the field,” said Adachi.
Bowler presented to the NCAA, while Adachi presented to the Cal Pac Conference, where she serves as President. Adachi asked Collier, the Athletic Director from Menlo, to join her in passing the anti-harassment legislation, which she did. The Cal Pac approved the change unanimously.
Within the NCAA, three committees had to pass the rule change. The biggest resistance, according to Bowler, was to one phrase in particular. “It was a lot of work getting the NCAA to put the wording ‘sexual orientation’ into the wording of the . rules,” she said.
Adachi elaborated that one of the members thought that “sex” would cover slurs against sexual orientation. She declined to identify which member because the phrase “sexual orientation” was ultimately added.
“The great thing about the NCAA is they try to be inclusive and fair, and that’s what it’s all about. I’m glad to see in this situation they really did come through,” Adachi said. “Part of the way we discussed this was making parallels with racist and homophobic comments – they are all hurtful.”
Adachi iterated the importance of the rule change. “Most college athletics use the NCAA rulebook. This impacts athletics all over country. Soccer is a major sport, and this sets a precedent for what should and could happen elsewhere.”
Sarin said she was grateful for all the help the team received in pursuing action. “I definitely want to thank the persistence and communication between the administration and athletics department, with all that [Adachi] and [Bowler] did. They did it through a lot of letter writing, phone calls, e-mails and heart.”
She also thanked the lawyers and the administration who gave their help and support.
Menlo and Mills will play each other for the first time since since the rule change next semester, on Oct. 6. It will be a home game.
Members of the Ethnic Studies Department and Daphne Muse from the Women’s Leadership Institute have already promised to attend and show their support.
All members of the Mills community are encouraged to attend this game and support this great team.