The Department of Athletics released its Building and Supporting an Inclusive and Diverse Athletic Community Action Plan on October 15 in an aim to address bias reported within the department.
The action plan is broken up into three sections—Access to Information, Ongoing Evaluation, and Education and Action.
The athletic department began drafting the inclusion and diversity action plan after the Athletes of Color Coalition (AoCC) sent demands for diversity reform to the athletic department and Student Affairs on September 7.
The action plan was written by Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan and Assistant Athletic Director of Operations, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator Katie Greene. Ryan and Greene started the drafting process by reviewing the AoCC’s demands with the club’s leadership. The document includes input from the AoCC; the Athletic Department Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEI); coaches and other on-campus partnerships, such as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
The document states that the department is “committed to a 100 [percent] accountability policy for incidents of bias by student-athletes and staff.” The document also states that in response to bias incidents, “students, coaches and staff will engage in an accountability conversation with appropriate team or department leadership with best intentions to heal harm that has been caused, which may include, but not be limited to, restorative justice dialogue.”
“The important component of restorative justice dialogue is that both parties need to view it as being beneficial and have a desire to participate. It’s not something that would be successful if you force someone to participate in the dialogue,” said Ryan in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “It is about providing a facilitated opportunity for someone who has been harmed to express that harm.”
The department has yet to create the restorative justice dialogue response team, but it plans to work with other departments at the College to do so.
Through the action plan, the department also hopes to “cultivate a culture of reporting” bias incidents. Greene emphasized that the bias reporting form has been included in the student-athlete handbook and said she also sent a link to the form to coaches and asked them to share it with their teams as well.
The department hopes to be transparent in their efforts by publishing an annual report from the Athletic Department Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee summarizing actions by the committee and department. These records will be available on the Department’s new DEI resource website.
Ryan and Greene both see the action plan as a living document; it will be revisited by the DEI committee at least once every six or nine months, but Ryan says that the document can and will also be revised whenever necessary.
“What we’ll likely do is when there is a significant update…we would just provide an update to the plan, rather than necessarily waiting for a particular six-month or nine-month window,” said Ryan.
The action plan requires an annual inclusion and diversity dialogue for athletes to discuss and understand allyship and antiracism. It also requires diversity and inclusion training for captains, team leaders, coaches and staff. In the past, there have not been department-mandated discussions regarding race.
Tim Ryan believes that their ongoing educational efforts will include partnering with campus staff such as Kate Stern, associate dean of students for inclusion and diversity, and Eduardo Pazos, director of religious and spiritual life. Ryan also hopes to work with other off-campus specialists for workshops. The department had Jen Fry, a former college athlete who focuses on social justice education, present to coaches in September and plans to have her speak to coaches and athletes throughout the year.
Manveer Sandhu ’22, a member of the field hockey team and co-vice president of the AoCC, believes that, although education and awareness are crucial parts of the action plan, mandated dialogue such as Real Talk on Race only serve as a starting point for students who have not previously engaged with race.
“If you have remotely had any sort of experience, any sort of talk or if you’re a person of color, these questions are not designed for you to challenge your thinking. One size does not fit all for race training,” Sandhu said in an Zoom interview with the Orient.
Cydnie Martin ’21, the other co-vice president of the AoCC and a member of the DEI committee, believes that the action plan is a start, but she also wants the department to work towards healing racial trauma that athletes of color have already experienced in Bowdoin athletics.
“The healing aspect is huge,” said Martin in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I know that might be controversial because it’s speaking to the past and not looking forward, but trauma doesn’t leave athletes of color, so we need to talk about the trauma that has happened more than we are now.”
Kendall Rogers ’21, a co-president of the AoCC, hopes the department will gear conversations towards the experiences of athletes of color.
“Not only do the trainings need to meet people on the very broad spectrum of this awareness,” said Rogers in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “But, there also have to be conversations geared towards the athletes of color and [focus on] healing from what has gone on.”
Rogers also mentioned that athletes of color may feel burdened with the responsibility to educate white teammates and coaches about race. For example, the AoCC leaders have been presenting a series of four workshops focusing on inclusion and racial justice during coaches meetings.
“Here we are, you know, not receiving any benefit other than feeling safe in our environment. That’s literally what we’re working towards, and doing the work that people are paid to do,” said Rogers.
Martin echoed Rogers’ sentiment.
“Part of me wants to be part of that conversation, and part of me is like, ‘I’m a student, that’s not my job,’” said Martin.
“My hope is that the athletic department realizes they need to take this burden off of athletes of color, but this doesn’t mean shutting down our channels if we choose to come back,” said Sandhu.
Alongside the department action plan, each sports team was required to create a team action plan in September. These were submitted to Ryan and Greene and have also been reviewed by Lara-Jane Que, head coach of the women’s track and field team, and Felix Abongo, assistant coach of the men’s basketball team, who both serve as department liaisons to the AoCC.
Ted Fuell ’23, a member of the men’s cross country team, said that the team’s coach and captain did most of the drafting and have led most of the discussions about race and their action plan on his team. He also feels it is important for every member of the team to engage in conversations around race and about implementing the team’s action plan remotely.
“We’re still trying to wrestle with how to start to enact these changes in a virtual environment,” said Fuell. “The challenge [is] first going from this action plan, [and] then being able to enact it while being in a virtual environment.”
Greene hopes that check-ins with teams’ coaches will hold the teams accountable. The athletic department is not planning to release the teams’ plans to the public, although some may make the plans available if they choose to do so.
Rogers hopes that teams stay focused on their action plans despite challenges.
“The very real fear is that, because these seasons have been canceled, these action plans and people’s buy-in is literally going to be thrown out the window,” said Rogers. “All we have to focus onis creating inclusive teams.”