Twenty sports teams sign letter in support of reinstatement for cut teams

by Anna May Mott | 10/29/20 2:00am

Source: Courtesy of Isabella Lichen '22

On Oct. 13, 20 Dartmouth sports teams issued an open letter addressed to College President Phil Hanlon and athletics director Harry Sheehy calling for the reinstatement of the five varsity teams eliminated in July. The letter, sent by diver Isabella Lichen ’22, calls upon the College to “rethink their decision, provide transparency and find a more equitable solution” to the financial issues posed by COVID-19 and admissions concerns, concluding with the message, “We are #OneDartmouthTeam.”

The letter argues against the idea that “recruiting more non-athletes will improve the Dartmouth experience.” The signees — 18 varsity teams and two club teams — voiced concern over what they argued was lack of transparency and accountability in the administration’s decision-making process. The letter also contends that the cuts will cause “permanent damage to Dartmouth’s ability to recruit in good faith.”

The letter, Lichen said, demonstrated the solidarity of 20 Big Green athletic teams and their opposition to the administration’s decision in a “concrete way.”

According to Lichen, the swimming and diving teams began receiving messages from other Big Green athletes soon after the teams were cut. Women’s ice hockey captain Jennifer Costa ’21 said that quickly following Hanlon’s announcement of the cuts, she and her team reached out to members of swimming and diving to offer support.

“We were so eager to help because we really feel for them,” Costa said. “It is so heartbreaking. The Big Green athletic community — I think we’re really close knit. We have a great amount of respect for each other and care for each other.”

The letter was written as a collaborative effort among Dartmouth swimmers and divers before being sent to the seniors and captains of each varsity team, according to Lichen. If any players did not want to sign the letter but captains did, teams used the distinction “the captains of,” and if any captains wished not to sign but at least some players did, teams used the distinction “the players of,” according to swimmer Summer Martin ’21. If no member of a team objected, the team itself was listed as a signatory.

Ultimately, 18 varsity teams signed the letter, including “the players” of women’s basketball, “the captains” of women’s cross country, field hockey, football, women’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s rowing, men’s Nordic skiing, women’s skiing, women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s squash and men’s and women’s tennis. 11 varsity teams did not sign the letter.

Additionally, club fencing and club skating reached out to the team to see how they could help and agreed to sign, according to Lichen.

Lichen said that the letter had been in the works since August, and Martin added that it took some time to get other teams to sign “in solidarity.” Lichen said that they were inspired to send the letter after hearing rumors that the athletics department was meeting with other varsity teams about the cuts. Rower Fiona Cronin ’22 said that Sheehy and associate athletics director for varsity sports and peak performance Jennifer Chuks met with the women’s rowing team on Oct. 12 and explained the administration’s decision to cut five teams instead of reducing recruitment proportionally across the board. 

Sheehy’s reasoning, as described by Cronin, was that a proportional reduction in recruitment for all varsity teams would amount to a substantial loss over a four-year recruitment cycle, making every Dartmouth team less competitive within the Ivy League. This reasoning was similar to what he told The Dartmouth a few days after teams were first cut.

Cronin said that the swimmers she lives with had not been directly informed of that reasoning for their team’s elimination.

“Had the Dartmouth community been involved and asked if [we’d rather] take cuts to [our] recruiting team[s] or cut these sports, I think that the Dartmouth community would have said we’ll take it, we’ll work around it,” Cronin said. “We’d rather take cuts than lose some of our teams, and I think that is reflected in the sentiment of the letter.”

Lichen expressed frustration that Sheehy was meeting with other teams but not the swimming and diving teams. She said that they have not met with or heard from Hanlon or Sheehy since July 16. 

“Especially since [Sheehy] hasn’t even met with us and is cutting us, I think it is completely unacceptable,” Lichen said. “… Once we knew he was meeting with other teams to clear his name, we knew we needed to get this solidarity letter out there as soon as possible.”

Lichen drew attention to what she claimed was a lack of transparency in the administration’s decision, a concern included in the body of the letter. Martin said that the swimming and diving teams previously had a meeting scheduled with Hanlon for Sept. 1, but the meeting was canceled the day before, as the College, according to Martin, “needed to review claims that were made.” On Aug. 25, the teams sent a letter to the Board of Trustees alleging discrimination against Asian athletes, and the anti-Asian bias claims were picked up by major national newspapers. 

The athletics department did not respond to a request for comment.

Athletes from other teams decided to sign the #OneDartmouthTeam letter for various reasons. The lack of warning regarding the cuts, Costa said, has left athletes on other teams concerned about their futures, though Sheehy has stated there are no plans for further cuts. Though the defending-champion football team is secure and well-funded, quarterback Derek Kyler ’21 emphasized the “One Dartmouth Team” messaging, calling the decision unfair regardless of one’s team. Back in June, before the athletic cuts, Dartmouth released a #OneDartmouthTeam video featuring varsity athletes across sports teams — including since-eliminated teams —  passing sports equipment virtually to each other.


Only 4️⃣ days left to join our "One Team." #OneDartmouthTeam➡️

“It’s just crazy that you can prioritize one sport over another, because we’re all just trying to do what we love here,” Kyler said.

Costa called attention specifically to Hanlon’s July 9 email announcing the cuts, which she feels was insensitive and stoked “fear” about being thought of as only “able to contribute athletically to the community.”

“It is extremely undermining to the teams that were cut, but it is also highly insulting to Big Green athletes, to all of us,” Costa said.

According to Costa, she and other members of the women’s ice hockey team are writing personal letters to Hanlon and other members of the administration urging them to reconsider the decision. 

Kyler said that athletes’ ability to make their voices heard has been hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the times that we’re in, it’s just about getting that word out,” Kyler said. “When we have a better time to act, where we can show all of us together, physically, I think that would be a great step and what the College would need to see.”

The swimming and diving teams are also receiving support from outside the Dartmouth community. On Oct. 21, 22 swimmers — several of whom are Olympians and All-Americans — signed an open letter demanding the reinstatement of the Dartmouth swimming and diving teams.

Martin said that the larger swimming community is rallying support as swim teams across the country face elimination.

“I think that the Olympians who have supported us and signed the letter … understand that swimming as a whole sport right now is a little bit under fire,” Martin said. “The Olympians not only have obviously so much passion for the sport, but also a lot of empathy for us who are having it taken away.”

With the support of Olympians and All-Americans, Big Green athletes have united in their opposition to the administration’s decision.

“An attack on these five teams was an attack on the whole Dartmouth athletics community,” Lichen said. 

Justin Kramer contributed reporting.