On April 3, during a double-header against the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN, members of the Oberlin softball team were met with racial slurs from the opposing team. As a result of the incident, Oberlin will no longer play Rose-Hulman in non-conference competitions. Yet students who have experienced racial abuse say they have not felt supported by the College.
During the double-header, fourth-year V Dagnino, third-year Lalli Lopez and second-year Mia Brito, all athletes of color, were called “monkeys” by the Rose-Hulman players, who also growls. and squeaks.
Brito initially tried to fend off abuse from Rose-Hulman offenders, but the taunts didn’t stop.
“It became increasingly clear that the racism was directed against V and me as [first] the game continued,” she said. “The taunts stopped when V and I didn’t start the second game, but once we got back on the pitch, they immediately started up again. I was very aware of what was going on.”
Brito, who usually plays first base, stood just a few yards from the dugout. She described being able to clearly see and hear girls who directed hate at her.
“They made monkey noises and kept yelling, ‘Who let the monkeys out?!’ when I ran in the field,” she said. “The players on the team made no effort to hide their racism, which I guess was the whole point. It was extremely difficult to keep my cool on the pitch – I was hollow in the chest and I had to hold back my tears while playing.
As a person of color, Brito always expected to face racism at some point in her life, but nonetheless described the event as extremely hurtful.
“I’ve always been very conscious of my complexion in away games, but honestly it was just shocking that this kind of blatant racism was still accepted in 2022,” she said. “Obviously the racial discrimination we faced could have been worse, but for me it opened up the generational wound of racial trauma that my family faced.”
Lopez echoed Brito’s statement, pointing out that being a POC will always come with challenges.
“Being a POC comes with an automatic target on your back from the moment you step out into the world,” they said. “You know this, but no matter how hard you try to prepare for anything, it will never prepare you to endure some kind of racist act.”
Dagnino, who is a catcher on the team, said they weren’t able to fully process the experience until several days later when they called their father and explained what had happened.
“My dad started crying on the phone with me,” Dagnino said. “He has faced an extreme amount of pain and trauma in his life due to his immigration status. He endured so much hate to be a brown man here in America. He came to this country to make my life and my family’s life better, and hearing that I had to go through something like this made him feel like he had failed to protect me.
Since the incident, Dagnino has felt the sense of security he had previously felt in Oberlin quickly dissipate, and he faces daily anxiety attacks.
“Something I realized on the phone with my dad is that this sort of thing is something that maybe I should get used to – and it’s scary,” they said. “I don’t want to have to live the rest of my life like this, fearing that I’ll be the victim of a hate crime or that when I’m doing something I love, like softball, that feeling of security might just frustrate me. be ripped off. .”
Like Dagnino, Lopez knows it’s something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.
“This event cuts so deep, but I’m still here,” they said. “I never wanted to get stronger from an experience like this, but it’s something I’ll have to carry with me for the rest of my life, no matter what I want.”
Upon their return to Oberlin, the three athletes on the softball team sought institutional support, but were unable to find any through College resources.
“I’m really lucky to have a therapist outside of Oberlin who was able to help me through this,” Dagnino said. “I am also in this profession since I am part of [the Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct program] and have close relationships with department administrators. If I didn’t have the privilege of knowing what to do, I don’t know where our headspaces would be. I called the counseling center a week after things got bad and they said they had no availability for three weeks.
Brito said she ended up having to search for resources on campus on her own, a task she says shouldn’t have been her responsibility.
“Nothing was offered to me,” she said. “I had to do all the research to find out how to help myself. We as victims were supposed to reach out on our own. This burden should not have been placed on me. I am a full-time student-athlete with two jobs, but was always expected to be the one asking for help.
Still, Delta Lodge Director of Athletics and Physical Education Natalie Winkelfoos worked with women’s softball head coach Sarah Schoenhoft, president Carmen Twillie Ambar, the Title IX office and staff. of Rose-Hulman to fight against the racism that the three athletes experienced there. .
“Coach Schoenhoft contacted me immediately after learning what had happened during their game – he was told after the game what the team had been through,” Winkelfoos wrote in an email to the Review. . “I contacted the Rose-Hulman [Associate Director] Monday morning to discuss the situation and address it with his direct supervisor, the coach and the team.
In addition to specific measures to deal with last month’s debacle, Schoenhoft also stressed that mental health and regular team checks are very important to the program’s values.
“Protection of mental health is of the utmost importance,” she wrote in an email to the Review. “As coaches we want to win, but at the end of the day, the physical and emotional well-being of players and coaches is more important than winning any match.”
As a check-in, the Oberlin softball team answers one question each day before practice. Schoenhoft finds this useful as a coach because knowing how everyone is feeling before practice begins can impact how it goes.
“We also hold several recording meetings throughout the
year of registration [about] softball and everything in between,” she wrote. “Once you know a player well enough, you can usually tell when something is wrong. Depending on the severity, it could be an occasional check-in, a more official check-in, or a [Student Health and Resource Exchange] report.”
Despite the department’s best efforts to offer support, Brito was unhappy with the institution’s response to the incident.
“As a woman of color, I didn’t feel supported by Oberlin as an institution,” she said. “As a POC you can expect to be treated unfairly, but I had higher expectations for Oberlin.”
Lopez is aware that there may never be a way to ensure that racism does not exist in competition, but they hope it can be a learning experience and a wake-up call for the College so that proper protocols can be put in place for the future. .
“I know that solving global racism is impossible from Oberlin, Ohio, but I hope that Oberlin College, as an institution, can step forward and help its students of color if another thing like this was happening again,” they said.
Lopez knows that experience will stay with the players forever, but also says it’s important that it doesn’t define them.
“I don’t want mine and my friends’ legacy at this school to be that we were victims of racism,” they said. “I want people to know us for who we really are: kind, hardworking, dedicated, and incredibly smart, among other beautiful things that make each of us great people. The color of our skin does not define us as people.