Homophobic slur at field hockey game inspires Champlain Valley Union students to speak out against intolerance

High school field hockey players wrote a letter condemning hate speech after an incident at a recent game against Burr and Burton Academy. Photo via iStock

Field hockey players from Champlain Valley Union High School have written a letter condemning hate speech in their community and beyond after an opposing spectator allegedly used a homophobic slur during a recent game in Manchester .

The incident comes after the Vermont Principals’ Association pledged to address discriminatory behavior following episodes of racist, sexist and transphobic verbal harassment at games across the state last year.

But the students, who posted their letter on Instagram on Monday evening, said the problem extends beyond the pitch.

“This community loves to preach inclusivity and acceptance of all backgrounds and identities,” they wrote, “but the message is often lost in the hallways of our school as insults are thrown around like slang, carved into the walls of bathroom walls and whispered among friends at sporting events or simply shouted loud and proud with no repercussions.

Speaking on behalf of the Hinesburg School’s varsity field hockey team, captain Miranda Oppenheimer said the letter was prompted by an incident on September 14 at Burr and Burton Academy, where a student who was watching the game “used a homophobic slur against one of our players”.

Dave Miceli, Burr and Burton’s athletic director, said he was in the school building when he was alerted by a Champlain Valley coach that a group of Burr and Burton students “had says something inappropriate” to one of their players just after the end of the first quarter. .

“The game ended naturally, the coach reported the incident and we were able to withdraw the students without disrupting the game,” Miceli said. “The coach has certainly indicated that he’s doing enough for us to keep playing, because that’s an important part of this whole process created by the (Vermont Principals’ Association).”

Miceli said he and one of his coaches approached the group of about nine students and led them across the field to the other side of the street. When questioned, he said, the students denied uttering the insult and no one came forward or identified the perpetrator.

He asked them not to return to the field of play or interact with the CVU team afterwards, Miceli said.

Miceli said he also spoke to other officials present to see if they had witnessed the incident. He called CVU operations manager Ricky McCollum after the third quarter to see if there was anything else they could do and apologized to CVU head coach Tucker Pierson at the end of the quarter. match.

“I told her I didn’t want to cause any more trauma by asking your player a bunch of questions, so let her know we’re sorry, and also, if she remembers anything that helps us identify this anyone, let us know,” Miceli said.

Captains Burr and Burton also came to speak and apologize to the CVU player after the game, Miceli said.

He said he had not heard of the case since and had not seen or heard of the message from the field hockey team.

McCollum, CVU’s athletic director, said he heard from coaches at both schools. Protocol was followed and both sides agreed to continue play, he said. All parties are “satisfied with the results and the way things have been handled”, he said.

Pierson, the CVU coach, confirmed that “we felt the situation was being handled effectively with care and concern”.

She praised her team for writing a “sincere and courageous letter” and for “standing up to the complacency that stands in the way of real change and growth – within CVU and beyond.”

“Sport is the lens through which we see these ugly actions and hateful language, but it’s a bigger issue that affects everyone,” she said.

New rules

Following several incidents last year – which involved abuse allegedly directed at student-athletes playing volleyball, soccer and basketball – the Vermont Principals’ Association has instituted a new reporting form online to identify and track these events.

The organization, which governs school sports in the state, also developed a new message to be announced before each game, encouraging sportsmanship and prohibiting “hazing, harassment and bullying of any kind”.

“The report form is part of a larger effort to raise the bar for all participants in sporting events – including fans,” said VPA Chairman Jay Nichols. The pre-match statement clarifies expectations.

Coaches from both schools said the statement was read before the recent field hockey game. Miceli also completed the online VPA form the organization uses to track such incidents, he said.

Nichols confirmed the incident was reported using the new tool, but said all investigations are generally left to the schools unless a party appeals or there is a “mitigating circumstance.” “.

VPA launched a fairness initiative in 2019 and started using an anonymous online reporting tool last year, which saw 58 reports from October to June. Five reports have been filed since September, including this recent incident. Four involve fan conduct, two are racial in nature, two are sexist or misogynistic and one is listed under other aggressive language and behavior, according to Nichols.

“We want to see this stuff eradicated. Maybe it won’t be eradicated in our lifetime, but we’ll just keep trying to move forward as best we can and clear expectations,” he said.

It goes beyond school

Oppenheimer, the field hockey captain, said the incident at Burr and Burton was compounded by recent instances of homophobic language used by Champlain Valley Union students.

The hockey team’s social media post says, “It’s frustrating that this community has changed so little internally since our parents went to high school, and it’s also empowering as we take a stand against all of this.”

CVU officials — including Christina Deeley and Bageshree Blasius, who are diversity, equity and inclusion coaches at the school — said they are continuing to work on the issue.

“Homophobic slurs are never acceptable. Neither in our schools, nor on our sports fields, nor in our communities,” the couple said in a written statement.

CVU Principal Adam Bunting said he and his leadership team are trying to find a way to help the student community learn more about the impact of discriminatory language and right the wrongs.

He responded to students, faculty and staff with a letter on Monday evening which read: “While the coaches and management team have followed up on all incidents of which we are aware, this letter represents the students themselves. defining to their peers and to their community as a whole. I am proud of them for their courage and their values.

Since the Manchester incident, staff have held restorative circles for the field hockey team to voice concerns and discuss issues freely. “We want it to be a safe environment for them to share their voices,” Bunting said.

Although he declined to share details, Bunting said they are also working with students who have been identified as responsible for discriminatory remarks in person or online in the past two weeks to address this behavior.

“We’re committed that when we have evidence that students have used harmful language, we’re going to follow up on it and we’re going to hold people accountable, but we’re also going to provide education for those students,” he said. said.

A cellphone policy instituted this year, in part in an attempt to tackle social media harassment, requires students to be quiet and store cellphones and other devices in lockers, bags or on a docking station. care during lessons and in other learning environments, among other measures.

“We need real change”

In a second letter to students, staff, faculty and families on Tuesday, Bunting said he sees field hockey teams posting “as a call to be inclusive and mindful of impact regardless of context.” and “an expression of how people feel when they are marginalized because of actions, words, jokes, messages, etc. that reject a person’s identity.

Oppenheimer agreed and said, on behalf of his team, that the whole community needs a real apology from everyone who uses discriminatory and derogatory slurs, especially those who target students from minority groups.

During the 2021-22 school year, the high school of nearly 1,400 students recorded 24 instances of sexual harassment, 16 instances of harassment targeting LGBTQ+ students, and nine incidents of racial harassment, according to data shared by Burngtin.

Oppenheimer, on behalf of the team, said student-athletes feel emotionally supported by administration, but also feel like they don’t know what to do next. “And that responsibility should not…be put on me and my team or the students at this school.”

“We need support, but more importantly, we need real change.”

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Catherine J. Martinez