Jolted by an alleged hate crime and bigoted tweets from last May, the Columbia athletic community is still searching for productive ways to react and move forward. One on-campus activist is critiquing athletics less and is instead choosing to work with the University.
Assistant wrestling coach Hudson Taylor plans to educate Columbia athletes on tolerance and LGBT alliance through his nonprofit organization, Athlete Ally.
The three-time All-American founded Athlete Ally in January 2011 during his first year as a volunteer coach at Columbia. The organization aims to end homophobia and transphobia in athletics by creating and edifying allies in the sports community. The organization partners with the NBA and NCAA to provide player development training. Taylor also hopes to support LGBT Olympians in Sochi, Russia, this February, despite the anti-gay law that was recently passed in the country.
For now, he's focused on addressing the culture right outside his office at Columbia.
"On one level, it was unfortunate to see where the culture is, especially on a campus that loves to talk about diversity and feels like a progressive place, that there's still a lot of attitudes that are the antithesis of that," Taylor said.
He's referring to the several dozen homophobic and racist tweets posted by football players that were discovered in the spring shortly after football player Chad Washington, CC '15, allegedly shoved an Asian student against a wall and used a racial slur against him.
The coach argues that the attitudes—not the Light Blue players themselves—are bigoted. To combat these attitudes, the athletes need to increase their awareness.
That is why Taylor will speak to freshman athletes on Thursday, emphasizing the importance of alliance during a program titled "Creating an Inclusive and Responsible Community for Each Other."
"If we're going to change the locker room culture, we need the voices, the support, of our straight allies to speak out and champion respect on and off the playing field," Taylor said.
In October, which is LGBT History Month, Taylor will co-host Athlete Ally Week with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the athletics department. The week will focus on the significance of inclusive, safe spaces and the negative impact of homophobia in sports.
"It's not about gay rights—it's about human rights," Taylor said. "It's about the integrity of athletics. It's not about the LGBT community for me. It's about the idea that everybody should have equal opportunity and access to sports."
To him, explicit dialogue furthers equality. He believes coaches should put Human Rights Campaign equality stickers in their offices, enforce tolerant language in student-athlete conduct agreements, and talk about LGBT issues with their teams.
Taylor travels to more than 50 schools annually to discuss steps that coaches, administrators, and students can take. After his workshops and talks, he looks for students to serve as ambassadors to continue the dialogue on each campus.
The ambassadors constitute a volunteer network that maintains contact with Athlete Ally monthly, receiving materials and information about current issues. At the initial level, ambassadors ask the Student Advisory Committee to sign the Athlete Ally pledge, a promise to promote inclusivity and respect. They can also host events, facilitate discussions, and invite teams to mass pledge signings. Ambassadors also strive to unify the athletics department and the LGBT resource center.
Currently, the only ambassador in the Ivy League is Princeton diver Mark O'Connell.
"Finding somebody to open up a chapter and recruit people to get things started at Columbia would be the best thing," O'Connell said, "but it's obviously very difficult. It requires time, energy, and all things college students are short of."
Taylor hopes to find some ambassadors at Columbia after Athlete Ally Week and to open a chapter sanctioned by student government.
Taylor said that the disunity between Columbia communities causes misunderstandings between athletes and LGBT students. But he also thinks that the "Dodge Divide"—as it was referred to in a much-discussed Eye lead last spring—is not as wide as people perceive.
"There's probably communication that needs to occur between the athletic department and the community at large that's not occurring," Taylor said. "We say one roof, but how do I learn about what all the communities are doing under the roof? I think growing that line of communication, that understanding, will help dissolve the Dodge Divide."
Taylor believes that time will tell if the administration responded correctly to the homophobic language exposed last spring.
"I don't think we're there yet. There's a piece of education and conversation that hasn't occurred that needs to occur," he said. "But I have confidence that it will occur and that the athletic department is doing everything they can to ensure that the pieces are in place and that this never happens again."
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