Locker Room Talk

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Alexa Druyanoff

Historically, lockers rooms serve as a backdrop to controversy hence the emergence of the phrase “locker room talk.”

For most people, the phrase “locker room talk” is immediately evocative of the misogynistic scandal which surrounded Donald Trump in late 2016. Trump, the former Republican nominee for president, had been recorded on tape uttering misogynistic comments sparking tremendous public outrage.

The most immediate and common defense of Trump was that he was merely engaging in “locker room talk.” This argument was refuted by many who claimed that the president ought to be held to a higher standard than high school boys in a locker room. While that is no doubt true, in the midst of this controversy, no one ever stopped to ask: should high school boys be held to a higher standard?

I argue, we should. Yet even at an institution that preaches tolerance and inclusion as frequently and heavily as the school, we’re not. It’s an open secret among any boy who has played a sport at the school that things take place in the locker room that would never be allowed in most any other setting, let alone on a school campus. Both words and actions which ought to raise the ire of the administration are commonplace, widely known, and uniformly unpunished. While many locker room behaviors are predictable, if unacceptable, such as misogynistic comments, there are many which go far beyond the pale.

I have personally witnessed numerous instances of overtly sexual behavior, in which one party was clearly uncomfortable and unwilling, which only furthered the enjoyment of the other party.

Furthermore, there is no effort to hide such behavior. Students frequently discuss goings-on in the locker room during sports practices, around campus, and even in class. These discussions often happen within earshot of coaches, teachers, and faculty yet no action is taken. Many would argue that this is not the administration’s fault, as activities within the locker room simply fall beyond their ability to enforce; however, recent history provides a compelling example to the contrary. Only a few years ago the administration made a concerted effort to eliminate the usage of nicotine products, particularly within the locker room. Before the administration intervened there was a culture of frequent and open usage of nicotine vapes.

Now, the story is a very different one. While obviously the administration cannot entirely eliminate nicotine use, it has seen a precipitous decline in the past two years, at least in the overtness with which such products are used. So while the administration involved coaches, athletic directors, and even students in their fight against vaping, they have failed to so much as lift a finger against this toxic culture that flies in the face of the schools ostensible values. What’s more, when these kinds of behaviors are targeted far less than less serious misconduct it sends a message to the student body that they are more acceptable.

Students are being taught that there will be no consequences for sexually inappropriate behavior and misogyny. These same kinds of lessons, often taught at the same kind of elite institutions as my school, have produced endless generations of people in power who abused that power for decades.

In the case of countless powerful men accused of sexual misconduct, their history is filled with places like the school. Brett Kavanaugh attended the elite Georgetown Prep in Washington D.C. Al Franken attended the nationally recognized Blake School in Minnesota. Both men, like many of the school’s students, went on to study at Ivy League schools. Places like the school, as well as those to which it guides its students, are a common thread in the history of many such men.

The school prides itself on educating the next generation of leaders and changemakers, but what exactly is it teaching them? Some schools seem to want to create a generation of sex criminals with imacutlate lungs. For all the talk of diversity, equity and inclusion, the school does not do enough to solidify those lessons in the minds of its students. For every example of a guest speaker focused
on tolerance there are two dozen instances of the exact behavior such events are meant to prevent.

As the school community finally makes its full return to campus in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, now more than ever is the time to consider what aspects of the school should be a part of that return. By offering a reset of sorts to the school, reopening provides a unique opportunity to prune those elements of the school’s culture which fail to make it a better place. By making it clear from this new outset that such behaviors will not be tolerated, the administration is perfectly positioned to deal a serious blow to these elements within the culture of the school.

As we return from the pandemic and begin to once again lead normal lives, the school is offered a choice as to what kind of lives they will encourage students to lead. Will the school make a bold choice to change the narrative, not just here, but at countless places that look to us as an influence, or will it allow the same tired, harmful trends to continue unabated, as for generations to come “locker room talk” remains the norm in the hearts and minds of our future leaders.