Dr. David Mitchell Bans Sport Whip Cracking!

Dr. David Mitchell Bans Sport Whip Cracking!

I just read an article that Olympic College in Washington State (where I live) has banned sport whip cracking on campus.  Here’s the article (from http://www.ocolympian.com/news/article_28654240-919d-11e2-b471-0019bb30f31a.html):

Bullwhips are no longer allowed on campus after an email complaint from a professor about the historical use of whips and their meaning to her as well as other students.

OC student Jason Harris’ whip cracking was brought to the attention of OC’s President, Dr. David Mitchell as well as all OC faculty and staff through an email from professor Karen Bolton. She said she felt offended by the recreational practice because of the historical context of the whip and it’s origins in slavery.

“Being a person of color, it literally made me feel sick to my stomach,” said Bolton in the email, “that whip has symbolism.”

The issue was addressed in an open forum Thursday, March 14. Members of the OC community expressed their opinions for both sides of the issue. Counseling Staff John Babbo and Anthony Carson facilitated the forum and President Mitchell, who called for the forum, also attended. The issue was discussed from both a dangerous weapons and racial standpoint in relation to the email.

“Whips are a hobby for me,” said Harris, “this is not something I practice and think of any particular time in history.”

Harris utilized the open field on the Bremerton campus to practice because he does not have adequate practice room at home. Harris was present at the forum and offered his apologies about the escalation of the issue.

“It was very unexpected,” said Harris, “the response that this incident got.”

The student conduct code can be found in the Washington Administrative Code website section 132C-120-065. The WAC, does not directly address the use of whips, but does say any use of a dangerous weapon that can be used to inflict harm on people is subject to disciplinary action. However chapter 9.41 of the Revised code of Washington does not classify a whip as a dangerous weapon.

“In my mind, I am thinking, this guy has a weapon!,” said Bolton in the email, “someone should take action.”

Ed Call, director of OC safety and security, said Harris contacted campus security officer Eric Hill and asked if he could practice on campus. Security officers observed his practice carefully before determining he was not a threat to the safety of students.

“We were watching and observing to make sure he was practicing in a safe manner,” said Call, “a whip specifically is not deemed a dangerous weapon by RCW.”

President Mitchell contacted assistant Attorney General Bruce Marvin, a figure with legal authority, who supports the notion that a whip is a liability. Whips will no longer be allowed on campus.

“CLEARLY our college needs leadership on this issue, and I am asking for you (Dr. Mitchell) to step forward and take care of this,” said Bolton.

This doesn’t just affect Jason Harris it affects all sport whip cracking.  You need to write the college’s president Dr. Mitchell and tell him that this ban is crazy.  It will take less than a minute to speak up for sport whip cracking.  You can write you own email or simply copy the one below (thanks Franco for helping write it) and send it to: dmitchell@olympic.edu

Dr. Mitchell,

I just read an article about your college banning Sport Whip Cracking on its campus, and with all due respect, I find Professor Bolton’s objection to its “historical” use completely absurd. 

For example, fire hoses, baseball bats, ropes, crow bars, torches, cars, pick-up trucks, bottles and even laws have been used HISTORICALLY against black people; are you considering banning those as well? I’m sure you can find an attorney that will tell you all of those have liability issues for your campus, but you aren’t banning baseball or fire hydrants. Because there is such a thing as “reasonable use” in everyday life, and while someone cracking a bullwhip on campus may seem unusual to some, unusual isn’t against the law; it is merely not common place. I’m going to bet that baseball injuries cost your campus more per capita than whip injuries. So the legal argument is very short sighted. Jason Harris did the proper thing by contacting campus security and getting approval from them and they determined he was doing it in a safe manner. 

As a matter of historical accuracy, whips have always been, first and foremost, an agricultural tool, and while it is true they have also been used as a repression device at some point in our history, it should be noted that the first users of whips were most likely Africans and inhabitants of ancient near and middle East, ergo NOT white slave-owners. 

Despite Hollywood lore, a whip is actually a very poor choice for a weapon and the fear and anxiety it may have caused Professor Bolton, with all due respect, has more to do with her own views regarding Black history in the US than the whip itself. While I can understand the symbolism associated with whips in certain people’s mind, it is IN THEIR MIND. It has nothing to do with actual present day reality. 

Sport whipcracking is a planet-wide growing hobby and it is practiced by the most safety-aware people you can ever hope to meet. Whipcrackers have to deal with preconceived notions on the part of Joe public every time they engage in this activity, yet there is nothing unsafe, immoral, depraved or otherwise objectionable, save perhaps the noise which some may find unpleasant after a time, in whipcracking. We regularly teach curious passers-by (and often their children as well!) about the sport and safety. I have never, in my thirty years of practicing sport whipcracking, EVER seen a colleague engage in anything but the most proper and safe behaviour when it comes to using whips. We are hyper-aware of ALL these issues because we do not want to become stigmatised and our passion turned into a controversy. 

You wouldn’t even think of being offended if you saw a whip performer at a wild west show or at a circus, so why object to it when it’s in your own back yard? This is a non-issue and I urge you to reconsider this ban…or possibly work out a solution. For example allowing Mr. Harris the possibility to reserve time at racquetball court.

I hope this letter finds you well, please accept my most heart-felt salutations.



11 thoughts on “Dr. David Mitchell Bans Sport Whip Cracking!

  1. I copied and sent this to the address provided. If it were a matter of safety alone, I suppose I could understand her view point, but to think that she was THAT offended by a sound? All this political correct bs has to stop. If it were a noise ordinance, I could understand that too.

    As you yourself said that while whips were used on slaves, that was not, and by most accounts has NEVER been their primary purpose. ANYTHING CAN BE USED AS A WEAPON! Are we going to ban spoons? Butter knives? Forks? Cars? Pencils?

    This is a non issue. To me it just sounds like someone trying to assert authority where they have none.

    1. Nathan,

      Thanks for emailing Dr. Mitchell! I think every little bit helps give Sport Whip Cracking legitimacy to that college. Once again the way I see it the “Liability” reason for banning whip cracking is a was of making a decision without making a decision. I.E. putting the decision on a lawyer and taking it off of yourself. For example if I were to say to an attorney I’m going to throw a rock within 3 feet a person from 40 feet away at 70mph, is that a good idea? They attorney would say NO, that’s a huge liablity issue for your college! But since baseball is mainstream it’s OK.

      Thanks again for sending that email!


  2. Hi Louie. It’s a shame what you’ve written.

    Just to show you another side of the way whips are perceived in different cultures, I’d like to tell you about my country. In Mexico, there is a living whipmaking tradition, related to religious festivals. During Easter, many dancers are armed with whips, which they crack along. In some of these dances, people engage in a sort of “mutual flagellation” (I ignore the correct anthropological stand on this issue), where they either fight flicking the whip at your face, other parts of the body, or just in the shins. This may have to do with a ritual of atonement, as if when receiving each blow of the whip in their body, in some way they participate in the suffering Jesus did. In some other instances, it’s just a sort of consensual combat where people settle their differences that way (as in pistol duels).

    Even though people like me (a city lad), may frown upon such practices, whips are not seen as weapons, or as a sort of shameful part in the history of Catholicism in Mexico. Needless to say, you can carry a whip in the streets, and no one will even notice or care.

    You can see depictions of whips being used on the indigenious population during Colonial times, made by the greatest Mexican muralists, and yet, the whip in any form it takes is not seen in the Mexican collective consciousness as a “weapon” or as a means of repression. It is my opinion that even when whips may have been used on people in Mexico, it is more of a romantic conception of the artists, trying to show people being used as draft animals by more powerful people.

    I’m with you and Nathan on the points adressed in your letter.

    I wonder what would Dr. Mitchell think about this… In any case, with all due respect, I think you (at WA State) are dealing here with some sort of tendentious historical short-sightedness which is banning a practice whose roots are not based solely on slavery.

    Hope everything works out for all of you up there.


  3. I feel compelled to address this because I think the point has been missed. Whether or not the college administration handled this appropriately is an issue I won’t delve into here. As a person who actively participates in hobbies that include a variety of weaponry (archery, handguns, etc.), I was acutely aware of the safety concerns and liability when I read the article. I have been to that campus. It is small, sits adjacent to a high school and has a childcare on-site. The open grassy area is in the center of campus where a building had been torn down, so there isn’t a “field” in the sense that there is a separate area that would have enough open space to both practice and maintain pedestrian safety. I believe that the student had no mal intent, but that’s not really the point.

    The faculty (or anyone else) not only had every right to express concern, but should have. There is a legitimate safety concern. I am doubtful that the security officer(s) who gave permission had any expertise in bullwhip safety thereby making any judgment regarding safety moot. This is obviously an administrative issue and not the fault of the student. In fact, the article indicates that the college did not contact the attorney general to inquire about it until after the complaint.

    As for the comparison to baseball, it is simply ridiculous to liken bullwhip practice to baseball. However, since it was raised in your letter, it might be helpful for you to know that the baseball team does not practice on campus because there is no dedicated field, which would provide some obvious boundaries. If students were playing baseball in the same location as the bullwhip practice took place, I would expect there would be a significant amount of complaints.

    The real problem isn’t that the faculty member raised a safety issue. The real problem is that people are upset that it was tied to the history of racism in this country. The fact of the matter is that it isn’t “Hollywood lore” as you described. It is a very real, painful and shameful part of the history of the United States. Regardless of the original use of the bullwhip or even how it is used today, there is still an ugly part of our history that is inextricably tied to it. Accounts of the horrors can be read about in a number of places including at the Library of Congress in their collection titled Born In Slavery: Slave Narratives From The Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938 and in Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember. There were even laws passed to specifically sanction such whippings as punishment. Just because you are unaware of the history or have not been personally touched by it, does not negate its reality.

    It’s time we stopped minimizing other people’s experiences and started to recognize that our actions impact others regardless of the intent. That means we will inevitably impact other people negatively, even when we intent to do just the opposite. Can we do something about that? Yes. We can either continue to impact them negatively by dismissing their experience and telling them how they are too sensitive, have it all wrong, etc., OR we can acknowledge that we all walk through this world with a difference set of experiences, which means that multiple truths can exist at the same time. It’s extraordinarily powerful to really hear what someone has to say, give them the respect of believing it and then figure out how to move forward in a way that works for both.

    You posited that there would not be offense if the bullwhip cracking was part of a show. When you attend a show, there is a specific context and set of expectations. I am not alarmed by people brandishing weapons and firing when I am at the shooting range. I expect as much. When I saw some teenagers pulling a rifle out of the trunk at a local store, I was alarmed and called the police. Of course, that is an obvious example and one with which most of us can relate. We tend to have a more difficult time believing people when it is something we have not experienced because we are under the false impression that if it hasn’t happened to us, then it must not ever happen or must be some exaggeration.

    Your letter stated that the “fear and anxiety it may have caused Professor Bolton, with all due respect, has more to do with her own views regarding Black history in the US than the whip itself.” I have to disagree. Fear and anxiety are perfectly appropriate and warranted simply given the safety concern. Furthermore, these aren’t her “own views regarding Black history”. She didn’t make it up. It’s real. Here’s what else is real: there are over 1,000 recognized hate groups across the U.S. (splcenter.org); the number of hate groups grew 69% since 2000(splcenter.org); that very college had a hate crime in April 2010; and people continue to be brutally victimized today. This is not just history – it’s happening now. Ironically, the anger seems to be directed at the very people who were victims.

    In a presentation given by historian Barbara J. Fields to the producers of Race – The Power of Illusion on pbs.org, she said the following:

    “Keeping the distinction between race and racism in mind is vital. If you were making a film about the Salem witch trials you would not waste your time evaluating the factual status of the courts about familiar and broomsticks and midnight meetings with Satan – instead you would probe the social world that terms those spectral imaginings into social facts and armed those which imagine them with the authority to accuse, try and execute their neighbors. If you were making a film about the Nazis murder of European Jewry you would not waste your time investigating the habits or characteristics of Jews or weighing evidence of a world of Jewish conspiracy – just as communion with the devil does not account for witch hunts and Jewishness does not account for the Holocaust, so race does not account for racism.”

    Professor Bolton, Africans, African slaves in the US or those who were victims are not responsible for the fact that bullwhips play this role in history. The slave owners who used them in this way, the politicians who reinforced it with laws, and those in the population who condoned it are responsible. By attempting to minimize Professor Bolton’s comments or blame Africans for first using the bullwhip is not only reflecting exactly what Barbara Fields addressed in her presentation, but it essentially pours salt in a still-open historical wound by negating the atrocity.

    Neither the faculty nor the student should be bearing the brunt of this. The student had no mal intent and the faculty should be lauded for both taking the time to raise the concern and providing an educational moment via an alternative perspective.

    We do actually agree on one point. You suggested a compromise. I completely agree. A dedicated space that can provide a clear boundary in addition to informing the campus community of the activity and parameters would be a perfectly acceptable solution. Context and guidelines would certainly prevent someone from unexpectedly happening-upon such a situation.

    1. Heather,

      Something to consider is that using a “Whipping” as a punishment is not a specific term for a punishment administered by bullwhip. How many kid’s got a “whipping” from their dad with either his hand or belt. A bullwhip is a very specific tool and I highly recommend reading David Morgan’s book Whips and Whipmaking to learn about different types of whips and what they were used for. A bullwhip would be a very ineffective tool for punishment, compared to other things…like a stick.

      Also from a liability standpoint, yes it could be a liability…but once again a couple of students playing catch in the park is also a liability. The student asked for permission and it was granted. No one thought it was a liability…not even the teacher that was offended. Remember she objected because it offended her as anti black…not anti safety. The school needs to look into it’s policy of how it approves activities.


  4. Anything and I mean anything, can be used as a weapon. If safety is a concern, then they could try and allow a designated area for the student to use his whip. He went through the proper channels. He contacted campus security who observed him to ensure that he was using it in a safe manner. To me this is a non-issue.

    Just as Professor Bolton is not responsible for the role of the whip throughout history, so neither are sport whip crackers. Besides, the intended use of a whip is to herd cattle, and just so happens to be a fun tool that can be used for sport. Just because someone enjoys cracking a whip does not mean that this person condones or supports an idea as insane and idiotic as slavery.

  5. To me it comes down to context. If the student was using his whip, and pretending to punish an epitaph of a person with it, then yes, given that context his actions it would be wrong. But he was sport cracking for recreation. What exactly is the issue here? The KKK will burn a crucifix at their absurdly stupid and pointless meetings. Does the sight of a cross atop a church steeple offend professor Bolton? I would hazard a guess and say not because the context is completely different. The object itself is not at fault, it’s the way in which it is perceived. The question should REALLY be, in what context is the whip being used. It’s simply utilitarian use alone shouldn’t be considered an offense.

  6. Nathan,

    I am a student at OC and I also work there. I think the problem that needs the most attention is the way Karen Bolton addressed this issue. She never spoke to this student, she just sent an outrageous email to the entire staff of O.C. which in turn, led to me having 80 something emails on the subject at work. This teacher just wanted attention. I had the urge to have a student protest in favor for Jason where everyone dressed like Indian Jones, Zorro, and Cat Woman went to school like that. This kid was terrified to come to school for being described as a racist. When in fact it was this woman’s actions that were racist. I am from the south and a former military service member so I understand that bullwhipping is an art form. My opinion was if he was practicing num chucks (please forgive the spelling) would anything had been said? There was a teacher who put Karen Bolton in her place, one of the Criminal Justice Professors, who informed her that she was completely wrong in every aspect of her email. To which Karen said “Are you joking? Am i being pranked?” Also, now anyone who recieved these emails were forced to tell a certain person who all they shared them with, so everyone is under the assumption that Karen Bolton is probably suing the college for not supporting “her feelings” in the exact manner she would like.

    Just my 2 cents on this outrageous topic.

    Student X :)

  7. Well that’s just plain absurd! I mean I think there were some valid concerns for safety, sure. But again, the student went through the proper channels, asked permission, contacted and asked campus security to witness what he would be doing so that they could determine whether it would be permissible for him to use his whip, and they saw that he was not only using his whip in a responsible way, but came to the conclusion that he was not a threat to his fellow students or faculty. When this happened he was given permission to proceed.

    If professor Bolton has truly started a crusade against this young man, and consequently attempting to defame his character by attributing his sport whip cracking as the equivalent to him being a racist, then there needs to be SERIOUS action taken against this professor for unprofessional conduct.

    I hope it doesn’t come to that, and I hope the issue can be resolved, but should it escalate in the way you’ve described, then the college needs to stand up and do what is right and defend this student!

  8. I took a few minutes to send this to the professor. While I personally don’t think that this is even an issue, when addressing someone with strong opposing viewpoints, it’s best to be as civil as possible. Here’s what I sent to her:

    Greetings Professor Bolton,

    My name is Nathan Andrews. I would like to take a moment to share my thoughts with you regarding sport whip cracking. I recently learned of the issue at the school that you teach, involving a student who used his bullwhip on the campus.

    I myself am a sport whip cracker, and it is an enjoyable and small but slowly growing community of enthusiasts here in this country. I understand that the whip has had many good and bad representations throughout history. It’s primary use being the herding of cattle and cracking for sport. Unfortunately whips were also used in the past to subjugate people of color, and to torture or inflict pain upon others, in some ways becoming a symbol of oppression. While I don’t claim to be a student of history, I am aware of these things as I’m sure you and the student in question are as well.

    What I would like to point out though is that just as you are not held responsible for the whip’s use throughout history, neither should sport whip crackers be held responsible for it. Symbolically we are all able to take whatever meaning we choose with regards to material objects, and that is one of the greatest things about this country. We are given the freedom to openly talk about our opinions and beliefs without the fear of persecution and under our laws we have protection from it. I think the issue of this student using his whip is not as much about safety, at least as I understand it, as it is about symbolism.

    The student went through all of the proper channels of the school, going so far as to contact campus security to have them observe his action with the whip in order to determine he was using it in a safe, responsible manner. When they observed him, they deemed it safe for him to proceed. This is something you will find with the vast majority of whip cracking enthusiasts. We try in earnest to always be aware of our surroundings and our proximity to others so that ourselves, and everyone around us, is safe. I think the key to this issue is context, above all else.

    If the student was using his whip to crack against an epitaph of a slave, then he is clearly in the wrong. If he was cracking it and spouting hate filled messages against those of color, he would be unquestionably wrong. Just as the KKK will burn a cross which would symbolize hatred and intolerance, so a cross atop a church steeple would symbolize salvation and the hope of heaven to a church member. As a student of Joseph Campbell and his love of Jung’s archetypes and symbols, I am aware of the dual nature of an object. The simple utilitarian use of a whip alone shouldn’t be an offense. The context in which it is used could be considered an offense. But given the evidence in this situation, I don’t think it is.

    Thank you for giving me a moment to share my thoughts with you, and I would ask that you please consider what I’ve said in regards to this issue. I understand that there was an open forum at the school and I’m glad to see that there has been discussion of it in a public forum. My concern is that this can be resolved so that it won’t discourage sport crackers from using their whips, as long as the individuals are using their equipment in a responsible manner. As I said before, it is a small, but growing community here in the United States and I would hate to see it squashed before it gets a chance to take off.

    Thank you again for your time, and I urge you to consider these points.


    I would ask that if others write to her or the school that they try their best to not be abrasive as your points would likely be disregarded because of tone.

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