New Psych Approval Policy Questioned, Defended, Violated

Varsity volleyball players dress in skiing gear on Oct. 27. Photo by Olivia Brown.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, Athletic Director David Gillespie sent an email to all GDS coaches and athletes announcing new guidelines for “hypes” (commonly called psychs), coordinated outfits teams wear on game days to build excitement. The new guidelines contain a list of 25 approved themes, including jerseys, tie-dye and pajamas.

The email also included a link to a Google form where teams can propose additions. Administrators will look through the submissions and add the ones that they deem acceptable. Since creating the list, Gillespie has added two items that students proposed: denim/jean outfits and zombie-athlete costumes.

On Friday, Nov. 4, the GDS cross country men’s team wore a “crop top and jeans” psych, which was not on the approved list. Gillespie could not be reached for comment on that psych before the publication of this article. (Ethan Wolin, the Bit‘s editor-in-chief, is a cross country captain and was not involved in editing this article.)

The women’s varsity soccer team wore a “Joes” psych on Wednesday, Nov. 2—players dressed up as different people or characters named Joe—which was also not on the list of sanctioned psychs.

“I think teams are just going to do the psychs and if they get in trouble they can just say it was a coincidence,” sophomore Alex Bhatia, who runs cross country, said in an interview before Nov. 4. “The list sucks all of the fun and purpose out of doing them.”

The new constraints come on the heels of last year’s controversy surrounding a cross country psych in which male-identifying runners dressed as “sorority girls” and female-identifying runners dressed as “fraternity boys.” Before that, psychs were completely student-coordinated and unregulated.

The fraternity/sorority psych “made people in our community feel uncomfortable, and rightfully so,” Gillespie said in an interview with the Bit. “That psych was the one that spurred the change.”

After that controversial psych last November, Gillespie emailed athletes asking that all ideas be vetted by him as part of the athletic department’s interim policy on psychs.  He said he doesn’t remember whether any athletes actually passed ideas by him after the cross country psych, but that no other problems arose.

Two senior varsity athletes, soccer player Leo Pivato and lacrosse player Nora Smulson, said they didn’t remember any consultation with Gillespie about their psychs last year but couldn’t be sure that teammates didn’t check with him.

“We thought the best thing was to create some guidelines and a list of psychs so that teams don’t have to worry about if the psych they’re planning is okay,” Gillespie said. “It makes their life super easy.”

Although Principal Yom Fox was part of the decision to implement the current guidelines, along with Gillespie, Assistant Athletic Director Pam Stanfield, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Marlo Thomas and Assistant Principal for Student Life Quinn Killy, she said that she wasn’t aware of the details of the cross country psych, which happened before she started at GDS. “I have no idea about that,” Fox told the Bit.

“We’re going to take it on a case-by-case basis,” Gillespie said of teams wearing unapproved psychs. “Hopefully everyone just follows the fill-out-the-form rule, and if a team does not do that, I will go talk to the captains and coaches to figure out what the next steps should be.”

In his Oct. 20 email to athletes and coaches announcing the new guidelines, Gillespie wrote that the purpose of psychs is to “promote school spirit and draw attention to the day’s game in a way that honors the integrity and worth of each individual within a diverse school community.”

“Thinking about how we can be an inclusive school is in every aspect of what we do,” Fox said. “If in doing some hype there are portions of our community that feel alienated and not part of what’s supposed to be community-building, I think we should stop and think about if this is the way that we want to promote sports.”

When asked what makes administrators better suited than students to make thoughtful decisions, Gillespie said, “We’ve already had examples of the students not following that with the cross country psych, so why not create a list that works for all of us?”

Smulson, who is a co-head of the Spirit Committee as well as a varsity swimmer and lacrosse player, acknowledged that athletes should stay away from any potentially offensive themes but worries that the new regulations will defeat the purpose of the psychs. “Psychs are made to be creative for a specific team, and if every team is doing the same exact ones it kind of takes how special they are away,” she said. “At a certain point they’ll just blend in.”

“What restrictions are we putting on this?” Gillespie said. “If you choose to do a psych that’s not on the list, all you have to do is fill out the form and send it to us. We’ll either say yea or nay.”

Though Gillespie believes that student choice is unrestrained by the policy, he still expects some pushback from athletes. “I’m sure that some kids are going to be upset by it, but what I’m hoping is that they’ll realize that it’s actually there to help them.”

Also on the list of acceptable psychs is rodeo attire, which was originally the theme for this fall’s homecoming, but was changed after students said they wouldn’t feel comfortable in rodeo attire. 

According to Killy, who worked with Smulson and the Spirit Committee to plan homecoming, it is “totally unrelated” that rodeo was shut down as the theme for the dance, “an event we wanted to make it open and accessible for everyone,” and that it is now a psych option. Psychs, which are student-organized and are not designed for the whole student body to participate in, “are a different ballgame than a whole-school event,” he said.

Senior Isadora Evers, a co-captain of the varsity volleyball team, agreed with the decision to switch to a new system. “The purpose of a psych is to get everyone excited, and if the psych is offensive, it’s not going to do that,” she said. “As long as they approve the ones that we add to the list, I think everything will be fine.”

Above all, Gillespie wants everyone to know that the decision to switch to this system for team psychs was in entirely good faith. “In no way are we trying to curtail the enthusiasm for athletics. I hope every team does a psych every single game,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite things, and I want to make sure that we’re doing it in a way that doesn’t upset anyone in our community.”

Director of Student Life and Wellness Bobby Asher, a former baseball and women’s varsity basketball coach, said that “in our community, historically, we have been more about norms than rules, so I can understand that any shift might feel more burdensome for the kids.” 

Asher said he anticipates backlash from student athletes. “I would assume that this feels more challenging and perhaps like it’s taking some of the spontaneity and autonomy away from the process,” he said. “On the other hand, it matters to me if even one kid says that the psych affects them negatively.”