My View: UP reaction over sexist speech inexcusable
Last week, a University of Portland athletic awards banquet was tainted by the violent, misogynistic speech of a senior member of the men's tennis team. Goutham Sundaram, the emcee, introduced himself with a speech in which he said he was going to open up, get real and "make the stage (his) locker room."
Sundaram, whose parents immigrated to the United States from India, detailed his sexual pursuits during the past four years, saying his main goal throughout college was not academic or even athletic, but sexual: to get white women to sleep with brown men.
"Go brown and turn your frown upside-down," Sundaram said repeatedly.
Most of the audience laughed.
Sundaram complained that fair-skinned athletes had better luck. "Go French and your panties get drenched," he said of his French teammates while suggesting that his parents' immigration would be worth it if he could "hook up with a white girl."
It was at this point that I left the room.
Many other student-athletes, including several men's basketball players and head basketball coach Terry Porter also walked out of the event.
Rev. Mark Poorman, president of the university, remained seated in the front of the room.
Sundaram repeatedly made sports innuendos, blaming his lack of sexual "success" on restrictive campus safety officers and complaining that "Gandhi didn't fast for 20 days so that I could get to America and not sleep with white women."
While Sundaram's tennis teammates laughed, several other athletes left the room.
The damage had been done, but there were a couple opportunities to repair it. Men's tennis head coach Aaron Gross got behind the podium later in the evening and according to those in attendance offered only a weak apology, telling Sundaram, "I love you, and I know that you tried your best, but that doesn't reflect the views of the tennis team."
Cross country coach Rob Conner also had a chance to change the narrative. As he came onstage to accept his Coach of the Year award, he could've condemned the violent words against women and the perpetuation of rape culture. Instead, he encouraged anyone who might have been offended to "move on and have a good time."
While it was wonderful that he could move on and have a good time, I, as a woman, could not.
That night, seated in the middle of the room, I had two options. I could stay and listen to Sundaram perpetuate rape culture and violence against women, or I could stand up, walk out and risk coming off as a "crazy lady" who "can't take a joke."
The event, which was supposed to be a celebration of hard work and success, ended up as a "locker room" — one that I was excluded from since I couldn't get the "joke."
Sundaram's words were actively marginalizing all the women athletes who worked hard all year. It's been a long road, paved with Title IX regulations, to overcome sexism and create a place for women in athletics. Last week proved that we're not there yet.
Forget being an athlete for a moment. As a student journalist compelled to hold those in power accountable, I am deeply disappointed in our university president, our senior associate athletic director and our senior woman administrator.
They sat in the front row. And did nothing.
They sat and watched as a student said women of color are less valued than white women.
They sat and did nothing as he implied that those women somehow owed him sex.
This is what we talk about when we say "bystander." Sundaram may not have been physically violating someone, but I felt violated. I felt unsafe. I was physically shaking. And what made it worse was that our top leaders of this campus couldn't understand the magnitude of the violence and harm that those words reverberate.
Inaction and silence are equal acts of violence.
I walked out that night and immediately started a longer version of this piece, which was published on the Beacon website the next morning, and shared via email and social media.
Within 24 hours, the awards banquet was international news. The story was picked up by USA Today, the Washington Post, the Daily Mail, India West and other outlets.
Sundaram was kicked off the tennis team and Poorman issued two communitywide apologies, the second stronger than the first, stating "I should have done more." Community members, including athletes, have voiced opinions ranging from regret of their inaction to frustration that I, and others, couldn't take the "joke."
I am not silent, and for that, I will likely never be the "cool athlete girl." But I never want another female athlete to feel objectified like that again. To feel her skin crawl and knees buckle on a night when her strength should be celebrated.
Olivia Sanchez interned for the Portland Tribune in the summer of 2017 and currently is managing editor of The Beacon, the University of Portland's student-run news source. You can reach her at @OliviaRSanchez.