Benjamin Vaughn Jr. and Emma Falley are student-leaders at Grinnell College working to bring LGBT equality to their campus and beyond. Ben is a rising senior majoring in Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies/Theater and Dance. He’s a swimmer on the Varsity Men’s Swimming and Diving Team, and sprints and triple/long jumps on the Varsity Men’s Track and Field team. He is currently the Co-Leader of the Queer Athletes and Allies group on our campus, a subgroup under the larger Stonewall Resource Center, which aims to ensure a welcoming community of student-athletes on and off the “field.” Emma is a rising senior as well, and majors in Anthropology and Religious Studies. She is a Diver on the Varsity Swimming and Diving team and a co-leads the Queer Athletes and Allies group with Ben. Below, the two spoke with Athlete Ally Program Coordinator Brian Healey about their work on campus, and helping to activate other Athlete Allies in their community.
Q: How do you see an organization like Athlete Ally benefitting the culture of athletics at Grinnell?
A:We believe that Athlete Ally can benefit Grinnell athletics greatly. Grinnell College as an institution fosters an environment where people can live how they want and believe what they will without the fear of prejudice or bullying. There are many discussions about sexuality on a domestic, global, and institutional scale; however, this conversation has not yet reached the department of athletics. I think that working with Athlete Ally would benefit the department because it would spark further conversation on how we can ensure that our team environments are inclusive of ALL student-athletes.
Q: Do you think the climate for LGBT student-athletes at Grinnell is a welcoming one?
A:We do believe that the climate for LGBT student-athletes at Grinnell is a welcoming one. There is always room for improvement in small facets of everything in life, but we feel that the college has made efforts in the past to instate policies protecting LGBT athletes. In February 2012, our head football coach posted on his blog* about LGBT athlete inclusion, sparked by Michael Sam’s news surrounding his “coming out.” Now the question is, how do we go further with this conversation? What comes next in Grinnell’s path of being inclusive on teams during and after practices?
Q: Why do you think it’s important for athletics to be a safe space for everyone, both at the varsity and intramural level?
A: Athletics is a great way to be active, meet many people, create long-lasting bonds with friends, and have fun. Sports should be a part of life that everyone can feel welcome being a part of. A safe space allows teammates to feel happy to be a part of a team, and it also invites an exchange of experiences so that athletes can learn from one another. Not only does making athletics a safe space allow people to feel welcome to be involved with a sport, but it allows a team to boost their morale and become stronger because everyone is comfortable in their owns skin, no matter what sexual orientation, gender expression, religion, race, or other background.
Q: Do you think professional athletes standing up as allies for the LGBT community is necessary to ensure progress?
A: We believe that professional athletes have paved the way for further discussions about change. To all the athletes who pledge their support, we would like to say thank you all because you have made it easier to act on what should have been done in the past. Athletes who look up to their idols pledging support for inclusion of all either can have the opportunity to affirm their beliefs or have a change of heart to become a bit more accepting. So are professional athlete allies necessary for progress forward? I do not think so, nor do I think they should have to take on all of that responsibility, but they have made such a large impact because now people are listening to those who have been historically marginalized and improving practices on how to be a stronger team.
Q: Do you think teams with open, inclusive policies where all members feel free to be exactly who they are, will win more?
A: We think that a high team morale, in general, helps a team win more. In addition, when everyone feels free to express themselves in their own ways, there is nothing that can get in the way of becoming a more successful team. In our experience on our teams, we focus on improving ourselves, as individuals and as a team, and becoming better athletes. Our mindset is that as long as we stay positive and cheer on our fellow athletes, we will do well, and by not focusing on the wins, and putting more focus into our own personal achievements and those of our teammates, the wins come to us. Being inclusive of all, in addition to being more successful, opens the door to becoming interpersonally stronger within a team, and this leads to happier athletes in all aspects of life.