Who Are We? Atheletes? Non-Athletes? A Campus Identity Crisis

By Grant Carey

Grant Carey

Natural or manufactured, tangible or imaginary, the athlete/non-athlete divide seems to dominate social interactions here at K. Unfortunately, I feel that this boundary creates poorly founded stereotypes (look no further than the Konfessions Facebook page or Twitter feed) and prevents the formation of potentially fantastic relationships.

After all, some of my most memorable and interesting times have been the direct result of branching out, just ask my fellow senior Brian Craig about our night of singing along to Eagles classics during our first year.

From the islands of athletes in the caf to the packs of players roaming campus together, it doesn’t take a detective to note obvious cliques formed by athletic status. Parties are generally homogenous gatherings of athletes or non-athletes. Nearly all the fans at a given sporting event, aside from maybe football games, are athletes or former athletes and parents. Even some classes and majors are almost totally composed of athletes or non-athletes.

If everyone were to make the effort to reach out to the opposing group, I feel that the K community would be a richer environment, enlightened through differing perspectives, experiences and opinions. But how can the gap be bridged?

First and foremost, I think we, as athletes, need to be far more self-aware. I feel that many times athletes unintentionally remove themselves from the greater K community. It is easy to see how this can lead to the perception that athletes are arrogant. We need to make more of an effort to show our support for happenings at K beyond sports. I sincerely believe that most athletes are impressed by the musical, academic and other creative talents possessed by students at K; we need to vocalize this appreciation and attend events put on by non-athletes.

On the other hand, I think athletes would appreciate a little love from non-athletes, too. Though many of us play for “the love of the game”, it is admittedly embarrassing to play a rivalry game in front of ten people. Even if watching sports isn’t your favorite way to spend your free time, it really would mean the world to us to see the stands packed every once in a while.

Along with receiving limited support from the general student body, it is deeply offensive to be generalized and branded with the common typecasts that are associated with athletes. No, we aren’t all testosterone-filled students who couldn’t care less about our schoolwork – many of us are compassionate and interesting people who definitely shouldn’t be defined solely by our participation in athletics. Get to know us a little!

I think I speak for the majority of athletes when I say I do not have any negative feelings towards non-athletes at K; I would imagine that the inverse is true. If there is one goal I have for my senior year it is to somehow facilitate the formation of more athlete/non-athlete relationships. In time and through reflection and action, these barriers can be dismantled. If we all make the effort, everyone will be better off.

Grant Carey is President of the Athletic Leadership Council, Co-Leader of the Health Professions Society, and captain of the men’s basketball team. He is a double biology and business major. In his spare time, he enjoys being on the water. 



By Francesca DeAnda

Francesca DeAnda

When I was approached to write this editorial for The Index as a “non-athlete” with many “athlete” friends, I hesitated. I was at a loss to explain how I experience the divide between the two groups, because of the fact that I don’t see any difference between my friends.

Thus, if you’re looking for a step-by-step solution for how to bridge the gap, I don’t have one. This divide, or overlying difference between people, is absolutely fictitious, and exists only in our imaginations. Not only that, but perhaps the reason I have seemingly crossed this void so effortlessly is not due to any extraordinary social awareness on my part, but a lack thereof.

I will clarify myself by saying that the tension between the two sides is very much real, but exists for superficial and invented reasons. Here at Kalamazoo College we have become conditioned to place labels on each other and ourselves in virtually every context imaginable.

We are used to dividing and subdividing our identities in order to find some sort of hidden meaning to describe precisely why we are the way we are. This very habit is detrimental not only to ourselves, but also to the relationships that we form with the people around us. We are not nearly as different as we think.

Have you ever felt hindered by the stereotypes that are placed on you? The answer, I’m sure, is yes. The same is true in this context. It’s extremely belittling that we have and use such terms of “athlete” and “non-athlete” to describe people on this campus. I do not think of myself as a “non-athlete” because I am not a “non” anything; there is nothing missing in me.

Nor are athletes merely defined by the sport they play. Even the term student-athlete does not do them justice. In the end, if there is one defining element of who we are at K, it is that we are K students. Period. What this incessant labeling does is whittle us down as individuals to be only recognized by one tiny part of our identities.

In the end, my friends are my friends because we enjoy each other’s company, and athletics have nothing to do with it. While many of my friends may play an intercollegiate sport, that’s only a fraction of their lives; only a fractional portion of their identities.

The term “athlete” is a very incomplete (and superficial) way to label the entirety of the person he or she is. The same goes for “non-athlete.” I am a lot more than a person who doesn’t play an intercollegiate sport.

So, here is the bottom line: there is no solution I can offer for this perceived problem other than to stop thinking there is some actual, overlying difference between us. The inception of this divide has created a toxic environment for our campus community, which can be potentially alleviated if we get to know one another, all labels aside.

Maybe the magical solution, then, is to strike up a conversation with someone from the other isle, to take a class with a group of people who you do not know well, or merely invite them to your party. Because let’s face it, in the end, we are all the same—students trying to make it through K.

Francesca is a senior English major and one of the Co-Directors of Frelon Dance Company. She enjoys attending football games the most.