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“This is a time to come together”: sailing conference changes rules to formalize mandatory discussions on race

September 11, 2020

Channeling the momentum for racial justice activism sparked by the killing of George Floyd this May in Minneapolis, Preston Anderson ’22, a member of the Bowdoin sailing team, led the charge to change his conference’s bylaws and to implement mandatory race relations training in the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association (NEISA).

Working alongside other members of the Bowdoin sailing team as well as other sailing teams in the conference, Anderson created The Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (TIDE) committee within the NEISA that has been tasked with analyzing how sailing, a predominantly white and upper-class sport, can be made more inclusive.

This committee is working to create a curriculum for race training that will be mandatory for all teams in the conference starting in the fall of 2021.

“This is a time to come together,” said Anderson in a phone interview with the Orient. “With a lot of my friends, I saw an opportunity to utilize NEISA as a way to promote change within the sport of sailing.”

Anderson, who is on the NEISA executive board, was in a position to advocate for conversations surrounding diversity and inclusion within the conference, but he needed some guidance and help from Head Coach of the sailing team Frank Pizzo, along with support from his peers.

“It was just very obvious that our sport needed to undergo a pretty significant culture change,” Pizzo said in a phone interview with the Orient. “Through [Anderson’s] contacts and a few of mine, we started to reach out to our team, some of our alumni and then a bunch of the other New England teams to get a sense of what other people were willing to do to help with these diversity and inclusion efforts.”

In addition to connections, enthusiasm and dedication towards this work among undergraduates in the conference contributed significantly to the success of the bylaw changes.

“I was recommended to reach out to a couple other sailors within New England and we all didn’t really know each other,” said Anderson. “We acted on this blind faith that we wanted to make some positive change within our conference, which speaks to the powerful start of this committee because we all want to make change. We want to push our conference to be better.”

With support from the athletes and institutions, TIDE became a reality, but the committee soon faced the challenge of creating meaningful change in an organization that has been almost exclusively known for scheduling regattas and sailing races.

Courtesy of Preston Anderson
A SYMBOL OF CHANGE: The official NEISA TIDE logo.

“We knew we were going to have a lot of questions on how we can do this,” said Anderson. “Do we have the power to do this, and how can we make sure that every single team participates in this program?”

To address these concerns, the broader TIDE committee split into three subcommittees: Education, Community Outreach and School Outreach and Recruiting.

Jonathan Chance ’23, the head of the education subcommittee, explained that it will construct the curriculum for the mandatory race training, which will focus on providing a background on institutional racism and oppression in the context of sailing.

“Following the implementation of the first education piece, teams will be given resources through the other committees to engage in work within their own teams as well as the greater community,” Chance wrote in an email to the Orient. “The goal of these resources is to continue the conversation about the barriers and challenges various identities face within the sport of sailing while promoting direct action through local organizations.”

Julia Wyatt, a senior from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the head of the community outreach subcommittee in TIDE, also described how her subcommittee will reach out to local sailing organizations to make sailing more accessible for potential athletes with lower incomes.

“In Boston, we have a lot of different community sailing organizations, and they do a lot of outreach.” said Wyatt. “They definitely have a wider base and with a wider audience in other schools in different parts of Boston, and are kind of set up to make sailing accessible so varsity teams can reach out, give them time with their sailing expertise, whatever is needed.”

Anderson found that changing the bylaws of NEISA is a difficult process, as three-quarters of the 52 teams in the conference need to approve the changes. However, with the current climate around racial justice, the changes felt more timely than ever, and the process went smoothly.

“[NEISA] is a pretty good place to make proposals like this,” said Wyatt. “People are supportive as long as you can put it into words and have reasonable timelines and show you have the motivation to get things done.”

Many committee members believe TIDE could serve as an example for similar committees to form in the National College Athletics Association (NCAA) or the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC).

“Groups like this can be broadened,” said Pizzo. “I think, in general, a lot of undergraduates are demanding that the schools they attend and the teams they’re a part of and institutions that are there to support them actually support them. We’re seeing that at Bowdoin and elsewhere.”

Both Anderson and his TIDE Vice Chair Izzy Cox, a sophomore from Brown University, emphasize the role of enthusiasm in driving change.

“Undergraduate passion is really important,” said Cox in a phone interview with the Orient. “If you get enough athletes together anywhere, there will be people who will listen.”

While there will be no mandatory racial training for every NEISA school until 2021, many teams have opted into the pilot program, which will see a smaller group of teams test out the programming designed and implemented by TIDE.

“NEISA had a chance to do something really, really cool and awesome,” said Anderson. “And something that could really just inspire change within the college sailing community and sailing community as a whole.”

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