Mandatory for the first time, workshop on race is a first step, but students demand more
September 18, 2020
Bowdoin’s athletic department held a mandatory discussion on race for all athletic teams last Wednesday. While it was a first step to getting everyone involved with Bowdoin athletics on the same page about race and the language surrounding race, many students felt as though it didn’t address key problems in the athletic department—most prominently, that of privilege.
The workshop, “Real Talk on Race: Preparing for the Conversation,” was led by Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Eduardo Pazos and Assistant Dean of Students for Inclusion and Diversity Kate Stern. The two normally lead similar workshops throughout the year as part of the program “Bowdoin Dialogues,” but because the event was held virtually, this discussion was a little different.
“There was a virtual wall, so [participants] only get to see the panelists, and people are not speaking in the meeting,” said Pazos in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “[To engage students] we used a Mentimeter, which is kind of like a word cloud and Q&A type of software.”
Stern stressed that while a critical conversation on race has traditionally been a component of orientation for all new students, the two were happy to step in and hold the additional workshop, even if it wasn’t as intimate as usual.
“This year, because of the work of the Athletes of Color Coalition (AoCC) and everything that’s going on in our country and on our campus, we wanted to shift the conversation to not just talking about race on your team, but how your team [can] be more of an anti-racist team,” said Stern in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Many students acknowledged the effort made by Stern and Pazos and the athletic department, giving them credit for starting the conversation on race.
“It gave people who don’t usually think about race, or don’t have a baseline for thinking about race, a framework for thinking about it,” said Lester Jackson ’21, co-president of the AoCC in a phone interview with the Orient. “Because for some people, they might have never even known how race is seen by people of color and how it can affect them.”
However, some were disappointed that the discussion didn’t go further and address the issue of privilege as well.
“There was no talk of privilege at all,” said Manveer Sandhu ’22, co-vice president of the AoCC in a phone interview with the Orient. “[They didn’t] connect those two dots for people who may not really know the link between race and privilege.”
Sandhu and others, such as co-president of the AoCC Kendall Rogers ’21, believed that while this talk was important, it wasn’t exactly the first step that they were looking for.
“The conversation was focused on how whiteness in every scenario of team experiences is the dominant perspective,” said Rogers in a phone interview with the Orient. “And, in order to begin creating an inclusive culture, it’s important to take whiteness from the center of the team and to understand that there are multiple perspectives.”
As teams finalize their action plans for addressing race, diversity and inclusion on their teams, Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan stresses this was only a first step and that there will be more to come.
“We’re not searching for a short term solution with the work that we’re doing. This is something that we’re going to need to do day in and day out, week to week, month to month, over a long period of time,” said Ryan in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “We’ve asked everyone within our department to double down on their commitment to learning, supporting and showing empathy for students who are in pain and making sure our department and our campus community will be a better place in the future.”
To make progress toward these goals, Jackson feels as though there needs to be more direct dialogue between the coaches and players going forward.
“I want [the athletic department] to move to where we focus on race at Bowdoin and how racism persists at Bowdoin on teams,” said Jackson. “It’s good to provide a framework, but we need to start moving toward fixing specific problems at Bowdoin so that one day we can get to a point where there’s no people of color in athletics complaining about feeling unincluded or that race is a problem on their team.”
Sandhu agrees and stresses that there should be a facilitator brought in by the department who is familiar with race in the athletics sphere. She sees the AoCC as being the facilitator right now, and that is not sustainable for student-athletes of color.
“The leaders of Athletes of Color Coalition can only say so much. We have school, we have all these other commitments and if I just put all that aside so I can focus on developing a facilitating plan, I think I would.” said Sandhu. “But, obviously I can’t, so I’m hoping they bring somebody not only for coaches but also for athletes. This needs to be an all-semester thing.”
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Do people ask, or even care, if this sort of programming promotes beneficial changes in attitude for those who are obligated to attend?
There are studies and data suggesting that, in fact, these initiatives do not help. Most of the time, they are ineffective (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19428200.2018.1493182?journalCode=uann20). Often, they encourage or reinforce prejudices, such as the stigmatization of low income white people (https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2019-22926-001) or by normalizing stereotypes/stereotyping (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25314368/).
So for all the talk about what needs to be talked about, why not start with whether this kind of mandatory “workshop” is beneficial, rather than engaging in social justice theater for the sake of it? That is not to say that other measures, such as actual dialogue between athletes, would be similarly ineffective. But obligatory lectures and “training” is probably a waste of time.