Calling off the Cross Country Psych Was the Right Call

Digital illustration by Nava Mach.

On Nov. 5, in anticipation of their meet the next day, some members of the cross country team decided to do a psych—a longstanding GDS tradition in which sports teams dress up according to a certain theme in order to get psyched for an upcoming game. The women’s team dressed up as frat boys, wearing dress shirts, ties and baseball hats. The men’s team dressed up as sorority girls, wearing skirts and crop tops. 

But the psych was shut down in the morning after a faculty member in the LGBTQ community raised concerns with cross country head coach Anthony Belber, who told the team’s captains in an email that the anonymous teacher thought the psych was “highly offensive to the trans community.” 

Junior Daniel Otto-Manzano, a member of the team, said he disagreed with the decision to call off the psych. “We’re not mocking people who wear skirts, obviously,” he said. “We’re mocking sorority girls and the classic look.” 

The cross country team clearly had not foreseen the negative implications the psych could have, and nor did I when I saw it that morning. The cancellation of the psych was a call for me, as a cisgender person, to stop and think. It prompted me to talk with people who held varying views of the psych. Some said that it was offensive to women or LGBTQ people; others argued that the psych was harmless or that its cancellation was a disproportionate response to one complaint. 

Once I had conversations with people about what had happened, many questions arose about freedom of expression, respect for diversity and the appropriation of cross-dressing by those who aren’t transgender, gender fluid or non-binary. In the end, I concluded that it was justified for the cross country team to defer to the faculty member’s concern.

People who took part in the psych were right to change clothes after hearing that it had offended someone. Those with privilege should always take concerns from members of marginalized groups seriously, recognize their mistakes and act differently from then on. We should yield to the requests of anyone who says our actions were disrespectful, erring on the side of deference when it comes to someone’s sensitivities. No individual can represent, say, the entire LGBTQ community, but they shouldn’t have to speak for anyone but themself to earn our courtesy. 

I should emphasize, though, that I don’t believe members of the cross country team who participated in the psych intended to offend anyone. Sometimes our actions are perceived in ways we don’t intend. Cross-dressing for comedy or camaraderie may appear harmless, but for at least one person, it seemed to cause offense.

Junior Noor Ramzy, a member of the cross country team who dressed up as a frat boy, told me, “If it’s making people uncomfortable, I can see why it would be shut down. I think that’s valid. You don’t want to harm anyone.” 

The runners who dressed in clothes typically associated with the opposite gender for only a couple hours were able to enjoy the psych without being ridiculed; transgender people, meanwhile, may face a harsher response for dressing the way they want to, especially outside GDS.

Following the incident, Athletic Director David Gillepsie informed soccer and volleyball players of a new process by which they would need to get psych ideas pre-approved before they are permitted to wear their outfits to school. He told the Bit that he is working with the office of diversity, equity and inclusion to establish a permanent policy regulating psychs. 

While the school’s apparent goal of preventing psychs that could be deemed harmful is laudable, students should be trusted to consider the possible effects of the psychs we choose without pre-approval from administrators. I believe that, having learned from this incident, students have the sensibility to assess the potential implications of our ideas and act respectfully. GDS students are already given freedom to step off campus, manage clubs and, in nearly all cases but psychs, dress as we wish. Let’s prove over the next few months that we can also pick innocuous psychs without needing administrative oversight.

After the cross country psych was shut down, some students, runners and non-runners alike, were upset that it had been called off. I would urge them to reconsider their indignation and learn from the team’s mistakes when choosing psych themes in the future. For those of us who are not marginalized because of our gender or sexuality, the least we can do is to listen and ask ourselves, What can we do to make every member of our community feel as welcome as we do?