KPU Instructor Among Researchers Calling Dodgeball a “Tool of Oppression”

Researchers argue that dodgeball emphasizes ideas of singling out students, building unhealthy alliances, and encouraging power struggles. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon)

Earlier this month, a study labelling dodgeball as a “tool of oppression” was presented by SFU instructor Claire Robson, UBC instructor Joy Butler, and KPU instructor David Burns.

Taking inspiration from the political theorist Iris Marion Young’s definition of the Five Faces of Oppression—those being violence, cultural imperialism, powerlessness, exploitation, and marginalization—the researchers behind the study argue that dodgeball emphasizes ideas of singling out students, building unhealthy alliances, and encouraging power struggles.

While Robson, Butler, and Burns believe that the game negatively influences adolescents, others argue that the harmful effects of dodgeball can be mitigated depending on who is playing.

“I think it definitely depends on the group of kids you’re playing with. If you have a group of athletes whose lives are centered around sports, they will view it as friendly competition,” says Alexia Stone, a student assistant for KPU’s Sports and Recreation facility. “But I also think kids who are less inclined to play sports willingly or be physically active could view it as an oppressive game.”

Another factor to take into consideration are biological differences between individuals that give some people physical advantages over others. Oftentimes, students can be intimidated by peers who fiercely throw dodgeballs and aim at vulnerable places. This can be an even more important factor in coed physical education classes.

“In high school, I don’t think you should play dodgeball with coeds,” says Josiah Engnan, another student assistant for KPU Sports & Recreation. “Maybe when it’s more like P.E. boys and P.E. girls kinda thing, then that kinda makes more sense.”

According to Melissa Conrad Stöppler, a medical doctor and contributor for MedicineNet.com, puberty occurs in females, on average, between the ages 10 and 14, while in males it occurs on average between 12 and 16.

“I think one of the best ways to go about playing this game would be to just take a class vote to see who wants to actually play it and who doesn’t want to play it,” adds Stone. “Get the people who do want to play it and do want to have a good time, get them in their own little group and then get the people who aren’t as comfortable playing with those more athletic or aggressive type people, get them playing their own thing.”

While the trio of university researchers are closely examining the positive and negative effects of dodgeball on students, they are not encouraging an outright ban on the game. Rather, they hope educators will continue to analyze the ethical influence of hosting a human-target game in schools

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