A lack of racial diversity on Bowdoin’s athletic teams has prompted the creation of a support and discussion group for student athletes of color. 

Hannah Cooke ’18 has been one of the people involved in creating programming surrounding race on teams since last semester. She spearheaded the creation of the group, which hopes to provide a space for athletes to discuss their experiences and the meaning of diversity in sports.

Student athletes of color are underrepresented in the Bowdoin community, which can shape those students’ experiences significantly as well as affect the way teams are viewed on campus. 

“I felt like I could make an impact by bringing people of color together to talk about their experiences because I know mine is not the same as everyone’s,” said Cooke. “While I love my team and they’re some of my best friends, there’s still three people of color on the basketball team. My first year I was the only one, then my second year there were two and now there’s three, and every year it’s been a different experience because of that.”

According to Cooke, athletic teams are unique social spaces on campus for several reasons. Athletes do not choose their teammates, yet they are locked into spending hours every week with them due to the large time commitments practices demand. It is also essential for athletes to have positive relationships with their teammates, which can make bringing up sensitive topics like race difficult.

“The relationships between you and your teammates are so precious and mean so much to the success of the team and to your happiness, a lot of the time it does make you act a particular way or let things go,” said Cooke. “It’s just a really interesting space that I thought needed to be explored more than it was, especially because there are some teams that don’t have any people of color—how do we get teams like that thinking about the presence they have on campus?”

Cooke said that because of her background in a mixed family—her father is black and from Jamaica and her mother is white and from Connecticut—she is very used to talking about race. But she realizes that this might not be the case for other people. Cooke also said that a lot of people who quit athletic teams are people of color.

“I have friends that I know specifically left sports teams because of reasons related [to race], and it’s those stories that I want people to hear,” she said. “Not just people who are on the teams but people who left and what it meant to them and why they had to make that decision was something that was really important to me.”

Cooke is also helping to organize a panel on race in athletics for the whole athletic department as part of the “Winning Together: Intersections between Race and Athletics” program that was started last year. 

Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan acknowledged the importance of having diverse athletic teams and said that more work needs to be done to make teams more racially diverse. The athletic department declined to share the exact racial makeup of the teams, but it is clear that athletes of color are underrepresented relative to the rest of the student body.

“The more closely our athletic programs mirror the greater student body, that’s only going to be a positive thing,” Ryan said. “And when you think about conversations that take place on our campus and every campus across the country about issues of a potential divide between people who are on teams and people who are not on teams, when teams are reflective of the greater campus community, I think that helps to alleviate some challenges that may develop along those lines.”

Along with supporting efforts by Cooke and others to support student athletes of color, the athletic department is also actively looking to bring more diversity to its teams, according to Ryan.

“We are being very proactive in looking to identify students who may have an interest in Bowdoin, who may have an interest in participating in one of our athletic programs and a student who would also be able to bring additional diversity to our entire campus community but to our athletic programs as well,” said Ryan. 

“We have been fortunate with some adjustments to the recruiting guidelines in our conference [that give] greater flexibility to coaches to cast a wider net across the country in terms of areas they’re able to recruit in [and] the financial resources that we have to support coaches in those efforts,” he added.