The school under scrutiny, Corona del Mar High School (CdM), is situated in an upper-class, politically conservative, Southern California beach community. One of its drama teachers directed the play, "Rent," at the school because of the high levels of homophobia he noticed on campus grounds. According to the Register, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union because the CdM administration allegedly allowed students to bully other students in person and through electronic means:
The lawsuit against the Newport-Mesa Unified School District accuses Corona del Mar High School administrators of “permitting and sanctioning an atmosphere that is hostile to female, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender students in general, and has led to despicable threats of violence against one student in particular,” according an ACLU announcement.
The lawsuit's mention of “threats of violence” refers to a Facebook video, viewed by the Register, in which three young males who apparently attend the school unleash a litany of gay slurs and suggest harming a female peer. Later, according to the ACLU, a fourth student threatened the girl on school grounds, leading her to enroll in off-campus independent study.
One threat upped the ante, threatening a person's life. And not surprisingly, a number of the reported bullies are athletes, who received an unusually lenient punishment for their threats of violence.
The school's “inadequate and inappropriate response,” according to the announcement, “included assigning an assistant football coach at the school to investigate the harassment, an obvious conflict of interest because three of the four accused students are members of the football team."
Ultimately, two of the boys went unpunished, and two were suspended for five days, according to the lawsuit. The complaint suggests the punishments were lax, contending that other students face far longer suspensions for drug and alcohol use.
The privilege afforded to athletes is hardly uncommon; neither are the excessive levels of sexism and homophobia that run rampant through high school, college, and professional athletics. Sports sociologist Michael Messner points out that in certain sports, males are typically socialized to internalize the following values:
- Competitive, homophobic, and misogynistic talk and joking
- A group practice of voyeuring, where boys can watch their friends have sex with girls and sometimes join in
- Suppression of empathy toward others, especially toward the girls
- A culture of silence among peers, in families, and in the community
Change needs to start at the top. School administrators must hire coaches that mentor athletes in ways that address these forms of discrimination. Granted, it's hard enough just to emphasize being a scholar-athlete. However, dismissing the homophobic and sexist norms that still emobody male athletic culture maintains a status quo where these forms of discrimination merely make bystanders smirk.
For more reading on Messner's work noted in this post:
Messner, Michael A. (2005). The triad of violence in men's sports. In E. Buchwald, P.R. Fletcher, & M. Roth (Eds.) Transforming A Rape Culture, pp. 23-46. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.
(Photo courtesy of the Orange County Register)