Former SJC judge to investigate college cross country team

For The Recorder
Wednesday, December 14, 2016

AMHERST — Amherst College has retained a former state Supreme Judicial Court justice to investigate reports that some members of the men’s cross country team were responsible for a series of emails and social-media exchanges that one college official describes as “racist, misogynist and homophobic.”

In a statement Monday, Amherst College President Carolyn “Biddy” Martin wrote that John M. Greaney will assist the college with its review. A former justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Greaney is counsel at the law firm of Bulkley, Richardson and Gelinas in Springfield.

“Knowledge of the facts will guide the College’s decisions about disciplinary process,” Martin wrote in a statement posted on the college’s website Monday.

She encourages anyone who has information relevant to Greaney’s investigation to submit a report, even anonymously, to amherst.edu/go/reporting.

The college suspended the men’s cross country team’s activities following an article in The Indicator, a student-run publication, that detailed a series of email and social-media exchanges between members of the team in which derogatory comments were made toward women and racial minorities.

Martin wrote in a statement to the college community that the article revealed that members of the team, between June 2013 and August 2015, violated college principles, as well as concepts of decency and respect.

“The messages are appalling,” Martin wrote. “They are not only vulgar, they are cruel and hateful. No attempt to rationalize them will change that. My reaction is one of profound sadness, disappointment, and anger.”

In a separate statement, Amherst College Athletic Director Donald Faulstick described the exchanges described in The Indicator story as “disgusting.”

“They have no place on our sports teams or anywhere at our college,” Faulstick wrote on the college’s website.

The Indicator article was authored by Sam Wohlforth, Helen Mayer and Dan Ahn. Wohlforth was a member of the cross country team in 2013 and 2014. Mayer is the vice chairwoman of the Conduct College Board at Smith College.

In an email with the Gazette, the authors stood by the article.

“Its content has already been vindicated by investigations of the athletic director at Amherst,” they wrote, declining further comment.

The story states that players, in a private forum for “Friends of Amherst XC,” wrote comments that list the sexual histories and proclivities of female students, describing one woman as “a walking STD” and two other women as “meatslabs.” There are also comments about people of Asian and African descent.

The article goes on to say that some members of the team apologized for going “overboard” and making “horribly exaggerated” comments, but many of the messages were posted with no response.

The team responded to the article in a published statement to the Indicator on Monday, acknowledging a “toxic culture” and apologizing for the remarks.

“There are no words to justify what was said and we are all responsible for the harm inflicted by our team’s comments. We are embarrassed and ashamed by what was said by some members of our team. We can never minimize the impact of these comments and sincerely apologize to the groups and individuals directly targeted,” the team responded. “We aim to hold ourselves to high standards of respect, but we have fallen painfully short. Criticism is appropriate and deserved.”

The men’s cross country season ended Nov. 19 at the NCAA Division III Championship, but every cross country team member except one also competes for the college’s indoor track and field team, according to college spokeswoman Caroline Hanna.

They will be suspended from those track activities, including competition and practice, while an investigation and independent legal counsel is carried out, Hanna said.

Martin said that she plans to provide periodic updates of the status of the investigation to the campus community.