Residential Life closes South 40 basketball and volleyball courts to public
Washington University’s Residential Life posted signs on the South 40 basketball and volleyball courts officially closing them to everyone except University students, staff, and faculty.
The signs outlined rules for use, including: requiring University identification, releasing the University from liability for injuries suffered on the courts, and prohibiting the use of the courts in the dark. The signs were posted the week of Oct. 2.
First-year Andre Leger plays basketball on the South 40 courts three to four times a week, often at nighttime. He frequently sees St. Louis residents from outside the WashU community shooting around and playing organized games.
“The South 40 is kind of the [campus] bubble everyone talks about,” Leger said. “So [when] you’re playing with these people from the community, it’s a really fun way to engage with them — and they play good basketball.”
The decision to install the signs was made over the summer, and they were put up this fall. The signage on the South 40 is consistent with other University athletic facilities.
In the past, Dr. Anna Gonzalez, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, said students had complained to her that the courts were overcrowded and that there was not enough space for them to play. She said the courts have always been reserved for the University community only.
“We’ve actually had these rules forever, ever since we’ve had the basketball and volleyball [courts],” Gonzalez said. “[The courts] are meant to be for our South 40 residents because [they pay] a different fee. It’s like your rent,” Gonzalez said.
Leger said that, in his experience, the South 40 courts are rarely overcrowded.
“No courts [on] the 40 — or in Sumers — have ever been [so] full that you cannot use them,” he said.
Noah Cohan is the Assistant Director of American Culture Studies and the co-creator of Whereas Hoops, an organization with the mission of spreading information about the racial and class history of basketball in St. Louis. He said that the closure of the South 40 basketball courts specifically impacts the greater St. Louis community, given the layout of courts in the city.
The placement of basketball courts in the city, Cohan said, is related to racial segregation.
“Most of St. Louis’ publicly available basketball facilities are north of the Delmar Divide,” Cohan said.
“What the lack of hoops is structured by, especially in St. Louis, is a stereotype that would suggest that most of the people that play basketball — or the most prominent people in [playing] basketball — are Black men,” Cohan said.
Cohan said that the University’s decision to close the basketball courts could be detrimental for community members south of Delmar that don’t have easy access to hoops.
“I think given the Chancellor’s recent emphasis on being in ‘St. Louis for St. Louis,’ there is a path forward that is more willing to engage the St. Louis Community and [an] understanding of how this restriction is perceived as an exclusive illusionary action on potentially racialized terms,” Cohan said.
However, Gonzalez said that the University’s goal of reserving the courts for students is not to distance itself from the community. She said that the University is “doing things with the community, and we want to be doing more.”
Specifically, Gonzalez pointed to the In the Lou initiative, which allows students — and especially first-years — to engage in the St. Louis community. She also said that the decision to put up the signs coincided with the future construction of a new facility in Forest Park and the newly-open courts in Tower Grove Park.
“The good news, too, is that the city is opening two basketball courts nearby at Forest Park and Tower Grove. And we knew this was going to happen, so it actually worked out great,” Gonzalez said.
Sheryl Mauricio, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, said that the rule about courts being closed at night is to have quiet hours for students who need it.
“The noise amplifies at night, and so we wanted to make sure there’s a balance of both experiences outside and quiet time for students who want to study,” she said.
The sign also outlines a rule around sportsmanship, which Gonzalez acknowledged was vague. The sign reads, “Users are expected to practice good sportsmanship at all times and to be mindful of others who are waiting to use or share the court.”
“It’s enjoying the game and playing the game and being well — and not being violent and not being disrespectful,” Gonzalez said.
Cohan said that in basketball, the tradition of trash talk is seen as a part of the culture surrounding pickup games, particularly in Black communities.
“I think good sportsmanship in the abstract is a great thing,” he said. “But there have been many ways in which the white basketball establishment, in many different contexts, has tried to police that kind of behavior and associate it with criminality and all kinds of other negative stereotypes.”
“I’m not suggesting that this sign is necessarily doing that, but I do think anytime you speak — or write, in this case — with emphasis about sportsmanship in relation to basketball, it draws to my mind some of those associations.”
Gonzalez said that, even with the publication of the restrictions on recreation facilities, the South 40 is still open to the public.
Unlike the Sumers Recreation Center — where all students have to show their ID to employees at the desk and swipe in, and other community members must purchase guest passes — access to most facilities on the South 40 do not require an ID swipe. This includes the basketball and volleyball courts.
While the University, as a private university, can legally close any and all facilities to the public, Cohan still believes the courts’ accessibility has an impact on the St. Louis community.
“Certainly, WashU is within their rights to [close the courts]. But I don’t think it’s perhaps the wisest move. And I think given that new emphasis on being a university that is enmeshed in larger St. Louis and [that] cares about the larger St. Louis community, they can take steps to show that a little better,” Cohan said.
According to Gonzalez, at this point in time, there are no plans to open the courts to the public. However, she said her office will continue to monitor the situation and evaluate how access to the courts should be allocated.
“I am thankful for the support of St. Louis and Clayton for opening up basketball courts for community members,” Gonzalez said. “Because the four or six courts at WashU cannot even meet the needs of our own students.”