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Marist’s decision to have the men’s basketball team play Duke’s Blue Devils in North Carolina on Friday, Nov. 11 for the opener of the Hall of Fame Tip Off Tournament has been the source of both internal and external debate for several months now.

Former director of public affairs at Marist and faculty member Timmian Massie expressed dissent in an Aug. 16 Facebook post, “How disappointing for me, a gay man, former long-time employee and major donor, to know Marist College doesn’t care about #LGBT rights by agreeing to have its men’s basketball team play against Duke in NC.” He continued, “UAlbany showed moral leadership abiding by the state’s ban on travel to the state of hate. Yet, here’s Marist saying, no problem for us. We’re happy to go in UAlbany’s place. We don’t care about discrimination. I hope LGBT and straight students, faculty, staff and alumni express their displeasure.” UAlbany, The University of Albany, pulled out of the matchup after Governor Cuomo issued a statewide ban on all “nonessential travel” to New York’s public institutions in protest of North Carolina’s contentious “bathroom bill,” otherwise known as HB2. Marist was asked to fill the vacancy, and announced their accepted offer to play in the summer 2016. 

Facing criticism for seeking to maximize athletic prowess and program building at the expense of the LGBTQ community, members of the Marist administration have expressed displeasure with the North Carolina law. “Duke is a private school and shouldn’t have to suffer because of their governor,” said Deborah DiCaprio, Marist’s Vice President and Dean for Student Affairs. “We are going to support Duke.”

Duke’s student newspaper, The Chronicle, published an article on March 25 pertaining to the passage of HB2 saying, “The University responded to the legislation Thursday afternoon, noting that the new law will have no impact on Duke facilities or policies.” Duke University President Broadhead has strongly expressed disagreement with the law, and in a joint letter with several other Duke officials wrote:

We deplore in the strongest possible terms the new state law, HB2, that prevents municipalities from establishing laws that protect members of the LGBTQ+ community and others from discrimination and eliminates some economic advancement opportunities for underrepresented communities.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece written by Marist’s President Yellen, “Our opposition to boycotting North Carolina should not be read as a lack of commitment to LGBT rights. To the contrary, the existence of laws like this one shows that much work remains to be done — and Marist will continue to participate in that urgent task.” As Marist is a private institution and thus reserves the right to think and act critically about the situation, rather than endorse the state-issued declaration, Yellen continued:

“Even if an economic boycott is the appropriate political response to a particular situation, it does not necessarily follow that colleges should participate. There are both philosophical and practical reasons why they should not. The core purpose of a university is to foster learning, critical thinking, debate and engagement, not to be a direct political actor. How could one even decide in which cases a boycott would reflect the will of a diverse college community? Whose views among students, staff, faculty, alumni and trustees would be given primacy?”

Duke officials have similarly expressed concern over the boycotts, fearing that educational and research opportunities would be impacted if travel to the North Carolina is banned by multiple states.

On Friday, Nov. 11 a group of 20 Marist students selected by Marist’s Student Government representing clubs on campus with specific ties to the LGBTQ community as well as leadership roles in SGA, set foot on Duke’s campus to dialogue about the contentious game. They met with student members of Duke’s chapter of Athlete Ally. Marist senior Hannah Sayers asked the group, “Are you aware that our traveling here is a pretty big controversy in New York?” Sayers is also the president of Marist’s LGSA, Lesbian Gay Straight Alliance.

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Marist and Duke students outside Cameron Stadium

Athlete Ally is a national nonprofit focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports and is committed to creating an inclusive environment for both athletes and fans. Their Facebook slogan reads, “Victory through Unity,” and as Lizzy Raben, Duke senior and a member of Athlete Ally’s executive board, elaborated, “In these types of [inclusive] environments, we can be our best selves and achieve acceptance.” Raben, a member of the women’s soccer team, described the importance of inclusion and awareness both on and off the field.

The Duke students expressed the importance of fostering bonds with every sports team on campus in order to provide avenues of support for gay and trans students. Raben explained that some of the more “masculine sports” such as football, basketball or lacrosse are often more difficult to connect with due to surrounding stereotypes of masculinity. However, the group sees this challenge as positive because it shows that their work in providing awareness is not going to waste.

A member of Duke’s track team, senior Michael Wilson clarified, “You coming here is helping us—even if against the desires of New York. We’ve seen it with Bruce [Springsteen], the NBA, NCCAA and the pullback is good, but to an extent. Now we need to start fighting against the law from within, and it’s hard to do with everybody pulling away. We need the support and help from both the inside and out.”

Brandon Lee Heard, Marist’s student body president explained, “We used this opportunity to create positive conversations. A college campus needs to be and provide a platform to analyze and make decisions. Our message is to promote equality for all, and despite our differences we can come together and learn from one another.”

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Later that evening, Marist students attended the game between the Red Foxes and Blue Devils in Cameron Stadium wearing red and white tie-dye shirts reading, “Love is Love.” The Marist men’s basketball team wore socks with a subtle rainbow tie-dye design. Other Red Fox supporters, including President Yellen himself, sat behind the Marist bench. The final score ended up 94-49 with a win for Duke. After the game, several patrons inquired about the distinct shirts and even thanked the students for coming to the state.

In the coaches press conference following the game, Marist Coach Mike Maker said, “This was a fantastic opportunity for the program, players, institution and legacy. I’m proud of how we played.” Maker thanked Duke for the occasion to play and praised Duke’s beloved Coach Mike Krzyzewski, known as Coach K. “I believe our future is very bright,” he said. 

Marist Coach Mike Maker

Marist Coach Mike Maker

When asked about the meaning behind his players wearing rainbow socks, Maker responded that they were worn in “a show of unity,” adding, “I give a lot of credit to the leadership of our institution and President Yellen to play the game and stand tall.” He continued that he felt it was a good idea to show support, and that the message was institutionally driven, “Inclusiveness is important, our guys know that.” Coach K followed with a recap of the night’s performance and looking forward towards the season, but the Blue Devils did not wear socks similar to Marist, or any addition to their regular uniforms.  

Duke's Coach K

Duke’s Coach K

“I think that biggest thing that had impact on me was at the game people had stopped to shake my hand and the group for standing in solidarity with LGBTQIA+ communities,” said Tyler Rodriguez, a freshman at Marist and member of the LGBTQ community. “I realized that the people of N.C. are hurting. Especially after this past week, the country is extremely divided and this is not the time to separate but instead come together and defend what believe in and be willing to compromise.”

Sayers expressed that before coming to Duke, she discussed the administration’s decision to participate in the game despite obvious controversy. At first some members of LGSA were uneasy, as one freshman member Liam Ollive remembered, “Initially I was against us going. If our governor wants New York to boycott, this is something serious and we should listen to him.” Ollive lives in Wappingers, N.Y. Falls, a 20-minute drive from Marist. “However, Hannah [Sayers] discussed with the club the decision and I could understand better.”

Back in Poughkeepsie, SGA hosted a viewing of the game in the Cabaret. Tristin Rowley, a sophomore commented, “I wasn’t as opposed to us playing Duke as I was to us jumping at the chance to play when it wasn’t originally scheduled in our lineup. Overall, we could have avoided the game, but I’m glad we played it, made the statement, and showed the Duke community that we condemn the new HB2 law.”

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Rodriguez, despite his decision to represent Marist at Duke recalled, “Coming to Duke, I was nervous. I felt like I was gay man who didn’t belong in North Carolina because of the HB-2 law passed there. I think that the players themselves felt the same way playing Duke. We all expected to be unwelcome.”

Anthony Sarra, a Marist senior, praised the opportunity as “enlightening,” being able to recognize a unity in similar values and lifestyles. “Discussing the importance of equality and being comfortable in your own skin is an imperative topic of our day and age. What’s beautiful is that no matter who we are, we were all made in God’s image with love. When we love ourselves and those around us, God will guide us on a journey that will make everything worth it. And that’s pretty cool.”

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