(Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
A former University of Portland tennis player issued a second, more expansive statement of apology Wednesday for jokes he made at an awards ceremony that offended many in the audience. The student, senior Goutham Sundaram, was removed from his team in the wake of his performance as the emcee of the event Sunday, and he could face further discipline from the school.
From the stage of the “Wally Awards,” which celebrated top achievements by UP athletes, Sundaram reportedly made repeated references to his Indian heritage while joking that his goal at the school was to date “white” women. “I said things that hurt many people in this community and I want to deeply apologize for that,” Sundaram said in his statement, which was published by the student newspaper, The Beacon.
“When I wrote the script for the Wally’s, I hoped to use self-deprecation and irony as a tool for sharing a few stories about my immigrant and diaspora experience,” he continued. “I realize now that it does not matter what was written in jest or what was said in sarcasm; the crux of the content was grossly inappropriate, and I am unquestionably in the wrong for that. There is absolutely no room for that rhetoric on our campus or within our community.”
Sundaram had issued a more terse statement Monday in which he said, “I want to apologize for taking away from the focus of the night. The night is meant to celebrate the excellence of student athletes and I would like to apologize if I made any people uncomfortable.”
“The comments that night were offensive — to women, men of color, women of color, to all members of our community who believe in dignity and respect for all individuals,” UP’s president, Fr. Mark Poorman, said in a statement Tuesday.
A senior on the rowing team, Olivia Sanchez, brought the comments to light when she wrote an editorial Sunday for The Beacon, in which she recounted her “horror” at Sundaram’s “violent, misogynistic speech,” which resulted in her leaving in the middle of it. She claimed that others did as well, including Terry Porter, a former Trail Blazers star who is the school’s men’s basketball coach, and several of his players.
According to Sanchez, Sundaram mentioned his parents’ immigration to the United States and suggested their journey from India would be worth it if he could “hook up with a white girl.” She said he told the audience at the outset of his remarks that he was going to engage in “locker room” talk, which included this line: “Gandhi didn’t fast for twenty days so that I could get to America and not sleep with white women.”
“Whether you’re a white man or a man of color, women never owe you sex,” Sanchez wrote in her editorial, adding a bold font for emphasis. “No one owes you sex. Nobody died so you can have sex. Nobody starved so you can have sex. To belittle the work of others as a way of bolstering your own sexual entitlement is nauseating. The fact that I had to listen to it with little impediment though, was much much worse.”
Sanchez said that she was “deeply disappointed in our university president” and other top school officials, who “sat in the front row” and “did nothing.” On Monday, Poorman issued a statement in which he addressed Sundaram’s “shocking and offensive comments.”
“As president of the University, I remained at the event to honor those who gathered to celebrate student athletes, teams, and Athletics staff for their many accomplishments in the past year,” Poorman said, adding, “Clearly we have continuing work to do to educate and raise consciousness.”
As outrage spread across the campus of the private Roman Catholic university, and Sanchez’s account of Sundaram’s comments began making national news, Poorman issued a second statement Tuesday. “As president, I was in a unique position to stop the proceedings, and I should have done more,” the Congregation of Holy Cross priest said.
“The opening of Sunday’s event was contrary to our values and to our mission,” Poorman added. “We will learn together from this incident, and we will become a better place for it.”
Poorman said that Sundaram would be subject to the “student conduct process, including Title IX procedures and our policies addressing unlawful discrimination and harassment,” as the university weighed “appropriate” disciplinary action.
Meanwhile, other UP students, staffers and alumni submitted their own thoughts to The Beacon, including an adjunct instructor who wrote, “Isn’t it ironic that women cannot obtain birth control on campus because, according to the health center website, the University ‘honors the moral teachings of the Catholic Church’ — but yet no one can find the mute switch on a mic to silence line after line of the basest kind of prurience?”
“We need to change the narrative and acknowledge that putting white girls on a pedestal is dangerous for everyone involved and not acceptable in today’s society,” a 2012 alumna wrote, “let alone at a public event at a Catholic campus.”
“It truly breaks my heart to have caused pain to my peers because I did not pay attention to my own blind spots,” Sundaram said Wednesday. “I am committed to bettering myself and addressing those blind spots through discussions with my professors, peers, and community leaders. This language has no place on our campus, in our community, or in our world.
“The words I spoke should have no place in history, they should have no place in today, and more importantly I commit to ensuring they have no part in our future. I hope to become a better classmate, friend, son, brother, and person through this process.”
(H/T Willamette Week)
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