The Stag Survival Guide: Final Straw for 3 Senior Swimmers who quit CMS Women’s Swim Team

By Anna Liss-Roy ’20
Co-Editor-in-Chief

TSV interviewed six current members of the CMS swim and dive teams and the three CMS swimmers who quit in September.

On Sept. 18, three of the four senior women on the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps swim team held individual meetings with Swim and Dive Head Coach Charlie Griffiths to notify him of their respective resignations from the team. Their decision was catalyzed by what they described as Griffiths’ inaction following the discovery of the “Stag Survival Guide,” a 13-page document created by the senior men on the team, whose descriptions include use of the n-word, explicit sexual references to members of the women’s team, and a homophobic description of another teammate.

According to CMS swimmers, the Stag Survival Guide is a longstanding tradition of the men’s swim and dive team, used to introduce first-years joining the team to their new teammates. A new version of the guide, written by the senior men, is disseminated each summer. It contains descriptions of the men’s team’s sophomores, juniors and seniors, all of which are allegedly intended to be humorous.

Some members of the men’s team say they had not seen their descriptions until after the guide had been shared with all members of the team. Furthermore, they had not consented to being included. Both full names and photos of team members accompanied the descriptions.

“I don’t believe I gave direct permission and I was not consulted before it was sent out,” said a sophomore on the men’s team who spoke with TSV on condition of anonymity.

The Stag Survival Guide is intended to remain confidential and is shared only within the men’s team. A disclaimer on the first page warns, “Before progressing please understand this work is by and for stags only, and any copying, sharing, or general spreading of this guide is a crime punishable by disembowelment, dismemberment, death, or in the cases of serious infractions, an awkward, drawn-out one-on-one talk.”

The document was brought to the attention of members of the women’s team, however, after a member of the men’s team who was upset about his description shared a screenshot with a female teammate.

“He screenshotted just his section, sent it to me and was like, I’m really upset, this is super [offensive],” said the female teammate, who asked to remain anonymous in this article to avoid retribution from teammates. “I thought that this was like a collaborative thing where everyone was working on it together and like everyone was approving it, and this is what had been written but it hadn’t been sent out yet.”

However, the document had already been sent to the entire men’s team.

As word about the guidebook spread, two of the senior women and rising captains created a group chat with all of the team’s seven senior men on July 1 to confront them about the description that had been shared.

“Hey Stags, I just saw this screenshot of what someone wrote about [male teammate] in the stag guidebook and you guys need to delete that right now,” said a senior on the women’s team. “I think an apology to [male teammate] from whoever wrote it would be good too … it is the absolute worst message of non-acceptance/intolerance you could send to the incoming first years. If this was spread beyond the team it would be a very poor reflection of us all.”

One of the senior men responsible for writing the guide responded in the group chat. “We are very sorry for including this,” he said. “We wrote this with no intention of malice and now that I reread it I can see how it can be misconstrued. We will send out a revised copy and reach out to [male teammate].”

According to the female teammate, “they did neither of those things.”

The seven seniors on the men’s team did not respond to two requests for comment.

In mid-July, an electronic version of the document was passed around at a team event. “They’re … joking about the guidebook and I’m like guys this is really fucked up,” a source close to the team who was at the event said in an interview with TSV. “They’re like laughing about it. I’m getting angry and then someone pulls out the guidebook … and passes it around so then I actually got to see the rest of it.”

The issue was brought to Griffiths’ attention one week later by members of the women’s team.

Griffiths, who declined to comment for this article, did not know about the guidebook at the time, according to members of the women’s team. “It’s been going on since longer than he was around and it’s so secret,” a senior on the women’s team said. “I had never even seen the guidebook.”

Several members of the Swim and Dive teams, as well as sources close to the team, agree that the Stag Survival Guide is emblematic of a team culture dominated by white men and steeped in gender discrimination.

“We’ve been railing against the sexism,” one of the senior women who quit this year said. “We’ve been having meetings with our coach since our freshman year … [and] nothing has changed.”

The sense of powerlessness felt by some senior women on the team was magnified last spring during a series of meetings with their male teammates to discuss what their senior leadership would look like the following year.

“You sit at a table with these guys and we’re already outnumbered because there’s like four of us and seven of them, they interrupt you, when you talk it’s like they’re just waiting for you to be done talking,” said one of the senior women who quit. “And like at the end of the day [two of the senior women] were on the national team last year and none of [the senior men] were.”

After a series of these meetings, several senior women were left feeling frustrated and with a sense of hopelessness, as they had not resolved how to improve the gender dynamics between themselves and their male teammates.

“That was the first time [we felt that] if this continues we can’t live our senior year like this,” said a senior member of the women’s team. “[Female teammate] and I had been talking probably for an hour like every other week over the summer … We were like something has to change.”

Once back at school in late August, one of the senior women met with Griffiths “to see the progress on [his response to the guidebook] and to talk to him about how to go about dealing with Stags in meetings this year.”

“I was just trying to figure out, like, can you help give me support in a meeting setting with these Stags, like it’s terrible to sit in a room with them,” she said. “He basically told me I was just ‘opinionated’ and that’s why they weren’t listening to me. He was like, ‘do you think it’s just because you have a lot of ideas and they just don’t agree with your ideas?’ I said, ‘These are not ideas, I’m being mistreated.”

Another senior woman and rising captain met with Griffiths an hour later. Her teammate warned her about how poorly her meeting with their coach had gone.

In the second meeting, the senior woman informed Griffiths that she and other members of the women’s team expected him to take action both in response to their treatment during meetings and to the guidebook.

“I said, if there are not consequences and this behavior is tolerated, I’m not compromising my values for a team that doesn’t back me and doesn’t care about me,” she said. “I resent the fact that you and the team are putting me in a position where I feel like I’m compromising my values,” she said. “I guess everyone took that as an empty threat that I would leave the team if there were no consequences.”

On Sept. 18, three out of four senior women quit, citing a team culture pervaded by toxic masculinity and the Stag Survival Guide, according to a source close to the team who spoke to TSV on condition of anonymity.

According to members of the men’s and women’s teams, Griffiths held a meeting with all members of the men’s team on Sept. 19, where he announced that some of the male swimmers would be temporarily suspended from practice.

“There was a group chat with the stags and the sophomore group chat was talking about, like, ‘Oh it’s at 7am, there’s never a meeting at 7am, this must be serious,’” said a sophomore on the men’s team who asked to remain anonymous. “No one really knew what was going on. When we got to the meeting, a bunch of chairs were set up and there was Charlie, a couple of assistant coaches, and people in the administration … there were important people in the room,” he said.

At this meeting, the team split up into their respective classes, according to a member of the women’s team who spoke to TSV on condition of anonymity. “The seniors were all left with [the head coach, Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Civil Rights Officer, and Director of Athletics], and one of the guys stands up and has his computer open,” she said.

This teammate, a captain of the men’s team who was allegedly involved with writing the guide, presented a “defensive document” containing “pages of any remotely sexual photo or joke that had ever been sent in a team group chat, nicknames, just anything with sexual or inappropriate connotation,” she said.

According to these two members of the women’s team, examples in this “defensive document” included a Valentine’s Day tradition where the women’s team writes inappropriate jokes and a “Rook Video,” which first years make during training camp to make fun of the upperclassmen on their gendered side of the team.

“From my point of view I have understood it as everyone makes inappropriate jokes about swimming or diving that literally aren’t directed at anyone, they just have your name on the card,” said a member of the women’s team. “But that was never like ‘I’m singling out this person to make … a joke that’s directed at them.’”

Three members of the women’s team confirmed that both the men’s and women’s team have participated in these traditions.

Other team traditions of this nature include a “Friskiest Frosh” award (according to a current member of the team, “it’s like an award basically that the senior girls give out to the freshman that is the most promiscuous and sleeps with lots of people … it’s supposed to be a funny thing”) and “Junior Dilemma,” a code word among male team members to describe a Junior male who hasn’t slept with anyone yet that year (according to a current member of the team, “the Juniors need someone to help them with the Junior Dilemma – I’ve seen that written [in group chats]”).

The Civil Rights office, in consultation with deans from all three colleges, the director of Athletics and the head coach, decided to investigate the climate on the CMS Swim and Dive team. Marcie Gardner, deputy general counsel of the college, conducted the investigation along with Associate Vice President of Diversity and Chief Civil Rights Officer Nyree Gray.

In a meeting on Nov. 11 with Gray, CMC Associate Vice President of Media Relations and Communications Peter Hong and CMC Director of News and Media Relations Gilien Silsby, exact dates of the investigation were unable to be disclosed to TSV.

“Things required as part of the investigation are confidential to the investigation,” Gray said.

According to Gray, this includes dates of the investigation, its exact procedure, and whether administrators involved with the investigation had met personally with the three women who had quit. However, members of the team say the findings of the investigation were announced to the team on Oct. 14.

“The investigation has concluded,” Silsby said in an email to TSV on Oct. 31. “It was determined members of the men’s and women’s teams engaged in behavior that justified the assignment of mandatory educational programming for the teams. In addition, some members of the men’s team have been given additional educational requirements.”

According to Scripps Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Charlotte Johnson and Associate Dean of Students and Scripps Title IX Coordinator Adriana Di Bartolo, “CMC found that conduct by certain swim team members was inappropriate and inconsistent with CMS athletics expectations. [We are] not aware of any specific policy violations under CMC’s policies.”

Gray stated she was unable to provide additional information on the mandated educational programming and requirements. According to Johnson and Di Bartolo, “given the nature of the document, it was determined that the Office of Civil Rights at CMC was the more appropriate office to conduct the investigation.”

However, some members of the women’s team felt the language in the Stag Survival Guide should have warranted a Title IX investigation.

“The guidebook is hazing. It’s a Title IX violation … and nothing’s happening,” said one of the seniors who quit.

Title IX, a federal civil rights law that was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972).

Though there has been no Title IX investigation, in light of the guidebook, members of the men’s and women’s teams agree more Title IX education may be necessary.

“I was incredibly disappointed in myself for not speaking up,” said a member of the men’s team who spoke with TSV on condition of anonymity and stated that he had been aware of the guidebook since before his freshman year. “But being able to go through some education and training really helped.”

“I think more education is always better, especially around sensitive topics like this,” said another member of the men’s team who also spoke with TSV on condition of anonymity.

However, team members and sources close to the team say that additional educational programming represents a surface-level fix for the real problem: a level of Title IX training for CMS athletes that they say is inadequate.

“We’re supposed to have Title IX [training] every year,” said one of the senior women who quit. “The only thing that we’ve ever had was a packet of information sent out in…April that was like ‘sign this by tonight. Otherwise, none of us are clear [to swim].’ … And no one read it,” she said.

In an email to members of the Swim and Dive team on May 5, a captain on the men’s swim team wrote, “Hey team we need to complete this form TUESDAY night at Midnight!! If it is not done there will be sanctions on CMS athletics for next year affecting all sports so please spend the 5 minutes it takes to skim through this and sign your name!”

According to Gray, Title IX training includes an online component for all students, accompanied by an in-person component for first-years. Further, there is a CMS-wide team orientation every year, which includes a section reviewing aspects of Title IX and team expectations.

Coaches have separate Title IX training from athletes. This includes a summer session with the Title IX coordinator and a fall session with Gray, as well as a spring update meeting with an administrator from the Title IX or Civil Rights offices.

Teams can also opt into additional training, such as Teal Dot training — which teaches bystanders how to intervene in cases of various types of assault — masculinity education and self defense classes, at the initiative of the head coach.

However, members of the women’s team report that Griffiths has been largely unresponsive to their requests for additional training.

“In that first meeting with him [over the summer] I said to him, you know, a great option would be to have a series of trainings with the assistant dean and director [of Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment],” said one of the senior women who quit. According to this individual, Griffiths allegedly responded, “I just don’t think they would respond well to a woman dean at Scripps.”

“I think [Griffiths] bears a lot of the blame here,” said a family member of one of the women who quit.

The three senior women who quit have been swimming for a total of 39 years combined. Two have racked up titles at both the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the NCAA championships. To sacrifice their senior season was a decision that came as a shock to the rest of the team.

“If our voices weren’t enough to effect any change, maybe your two [nationally-ranked] and three out of four seniors quitting would get attention,” said one of the seniors who quit. “We thought that this was going to be the catalyst for change. And it’s not … what will it take if three out of four seniors quitting aren’t going to do it?”

The three swimmers each wrote resignation letters to Griffiths, which they presented to him in their meetings on Sept. 18.

In her letter of resignation, one of the swimmers described a moment of confrontation at a meeting with the senior men as backlash about the guidebook was beginning to unfold. “I’ll be completely candid and say that I have never been to a more painful dinner than this one I am about to tell you about,” she wrote. “The senior boys did not even mention the survival guide. They skipped right over it and just said they had a meeting with you and what came out of it was that we will now have to be more transparent in our activities with you. I interjected, asking them if they cared to share why they had a separate meeting with you that brought about this change. The response was that ‘an individual’ was offended by some of the material in the survival guide and that this ‘individual’ brought it to your attention. They then changed the topic but I interjected again, this time saying that on top of the many people who were offended, I was personally offended by the things written in that document … Then [another female teammate], bold as ever and seeing that they didn’t understand what they did wrong, said, ‘I think you all owe [teammate] an apology.’ One by one the boys muttered, ‘Sorry, [teammate]’ … ‘Sorry, [teammate]’ … ‘Sorry, [teammate]’ … while facing down at the table. I had to beg for an apology and that’s what I got. It was like pulling teeth but so much worse because this was coming from a group of people who I thought were my friends. After that ‘apology’ [a senior captain] checked his phone and said he had to leave. Then, in classic CMS fashion, all of the boys followed [his] lead and dispersed. And that was the end of that.”

This culture of marginalization described by the women who quit and members who are still on the team has manifested through a series of incidents during the past four years that some have found to be sexist.

“One of our huge complaints in the past has been that the Stags like in practice only cheer for themselves,” said one of the women who quit. “At [the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference] … the girls were closer to winning but [Griffiths] wasn’t like coming out like rallying them up to try to get them to like push. He was … still focused on the male swimmers and how well they were doing and a lot of them felt that he was … always putting more emphasis on them than on the women.”

After the women’s team lost a Pomona-Pitzer meet in the 2017-2018 season, a member of the men’s team infamously commented that “the Athenas are only good for fucking.”

The response was immediate. According to members of the women’s team, a team meeting was convened where a Zero Tolerance policy was reviewed. “Then we had an Athena team meeting during practice, of course, and people basically related stories of times when they felt like marginalized and oppressed by the Stags. It was super depressing and then we missed practice for it — while the boys were swimming,” a senior who quit said.

Last year, another incident arose when members of the team were having problems with a captain. “This person was really acting inappropriately and setting a terrible example … the senior Athenas were going to Charlie and … he was like, ‘oh, it’s just drama among you guys,’” said one of the senior women who quit. “And then right when a [male teammate] got on board and came to the meeting with the Athenas, then Charlie listened.”

Aside from these moments of conflict, some women on the team feel a general sense of inferiority, even in the pool. “[The men] are always leading the lanes, which sort of makes sense in terms of speed, but then they also get a lot of benefits from going first,” said one of the senior women who quit. “If you go last in the lane you don’t get your time. It’s clear we’re second tier to them,” she said.

Instances perceived as discriminatory against women and other marginalized identities on the team are not restricted to the CMS swim and dive team, and can be recognized in swim culture more broadly. Three members of Niagara University’s women’s swimming and diving teams, who allege they were sexually harassed and bullied by members of the men’s swim team, sued their school in September, according to the Associated Press. Abrahm DeVine, the Pac-12 swimmer of the year in 2018 and a two-time member of the U.S. national team at the world championships, recently posted in an Instagram post announcing that he had been kicked off the Stanford swim and dive team because he is gay, according to the Washington Post.

According to a 2018 NCAA report, two percent of Division III swimmers are black for both men’s and women’s teams, 78 percent of men’s teams and 80 percent of women’s teams are white, and 20 percent of men’s teams and 18 percent of women’s teams are “other.” Though the NCAA does not offer statistics for socioeconomic status, 79 percent of children in families with household income less than $50,000 have no/low swimming ability, according to a 2017 report from the USA Swimming Foundation, leading to the conclusion that a majority of swimmers who make it to the college level come from a privileged socioeconomic background.

Beyond the racial and socioeconomic demographics, collegiate swim and dive teams are also unique because it is one of the only sports where the men and women’s teams have joint practices.

“The unique aspect of swimming at a college level is that it’s the only sport where men and women are side by side training together every day … not to mention in bathing suits,” said a family member of one of the women who quit. “That can make for a fairly oppressive environment if the men are diminishing your accomplishments and making smart remarks about how you look or all that sort of stuff.”

However, some members of swim and dive say they have not observed any problems between members of the men’s and women’s teams. “It’s not Stags and Athenas. It’s Stagthenas,” said a member of the men’s team who spoke to TSV on condition of anonymity.

Furthermore, some members of the men’s team who were included in the guide say they were not offended by their descriptions. “I thought what was written about me was funny, and I didn’t have any problems with it,” said the same member of the men’s team.

“I completely understand why some people thought parts of the document to be inappropriate, but I did not interpret any of the entries as anything other than well-intentioned jokes,” said another member of the men’s team who spoke to TSV on condition of anonymity. “This is not to say that some people’s outrage was unwarranted, only that I did not share the sentiment.”

The seniors responsible for writing the guide sent apologies to members of the men’s team after the team meeting on Sept. 18. However, the most impactful action for the team was the resignation of three out of four of its senior women captains.

“Instead of including more women in the management of the team, as there are now nearly no senior women on the team, they have doubled down on running the team as a senior class alone, meaning the gender balance of people posing as team leadership for swimmers is 6 men:1 woman right now. They have expressed that the role of juniors is to be examples of team spirit, and that is all,” said a current member of the women’s team.

“It hurts to lose the best coach I have ever had, who has been my greatest supporter and mentor in all my time here in California,” wrote one of the seniors in her letter of resignation. “It hurts that I am giving up the sport that I love more than anything, that has been a part of my life since before I can remember.”

“Yet I know that from the ashes, Athenas will still rise,” she wrote. “I will always be there for the team, and I will continue to cheer on the Athenas for the rest of my life. I hope that someday, we all will have learned from this and we will all be better people and we will all be friends again. But so much has to change first. That change starts now.”

The full version of the Stag Survival Guide, with names and identifying information censored, can be viewed at the link below.

2019-2020 Stag Survival Guide

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