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Student athletes satisfied, but not enthusiastic, about departmental DEI initiatives in athletics

March 5, 2021

More impressed with their own team’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts than the Athletic Department’s, student athletes report general satisfaction with efforts to address DEI issues in athletics, according to a survey of Bowdoin student-athletes recently conducted by the Orient. Student athletes are also satisfied with anti-racism educator Jen Fry’s programming, and are supportive of the  initiatives that the Athletic Department announced last week.

For the survey, 67 student athletes responded to questions that asked to rate their satisfaction with both the athletic department’s and their individual team’s work to address DEI issues in athletics on a scale of one (least satisfied) to 10 (most satisfied), with five being “neutral.”

While the Orient asked respondents for their race, there were no statistical differences between the responses of student-athletes of different racial identities. The average response for satisfaction with individuals on their teams was 7.3, while the average satisfaction for the athletic department was 6.5.

Despite the lower score, some students believe that the athletic department is doing the best that it can with the available resources.

“It’s not perfect, but I don’t think [the athletic department] is doing anything wrong,” a member of the men’s rugby team wrote in the survey.

However, other respondents said they believe that more needs to be done.

“It seems as if the athletic department is continually playing catch up, playing defense, instead of actually going out there and trying to make an effort,” a member of the men’s cross-country team wrote in the survey.

“I feel like I didn’t fully grasp what the athletic department was really doing and still don’t have a clear idea,” a member of the field hockey team wrote in the survey.

A theme echoed across all responses was disappointment with centering coaches in DEI discussions, especially when those coaches are only just getting trained this semester.

“[The athletic department’s] instruction for teams with regards to creating an action plan was lacking, and they put a lot of responsibility onto (predominantly white) coaches who haven’t had a lot of training in DEI before,” a member of the field hockey team wrote in the survey. “Coaches were learning as they went, which made progress within the team challenging at times due to the need for coaches to educate themselves in order to make effective progress on a team.”

Yet, many student athletes recognize that their coaches were putting in a lot of time and effort, but do not have a basis to conduct this work.

“I’ve been impressed by my team’s willingness to engage in these types of issues,” a member of the men’s ice hockey team wrote in the survey. “Our coaching staff has placed a huge emphasis on this work, but [they] don’t have the resources or knowledge to make progress.”

Despite these challenges, student athletes themselves said they have been actively engaged in this work. Approximately 64 percent of respondents stated that they had attended 75 percent or more of the athletic department’s DEI programming, and 85 percent of respondents stated that they had attended 75 percent or more of their own team’s DEI programming. No one claimed to have attended 25 percent or less of the programming in either of those categories.

One program, “Discussions on DEI in Athletics,” led by Jen Fry, was favorably received by many student athletes, with an average satisfaction rating of 7.3. Some athletes expressed how impressed they were with the way that Fry was able to communicate and teach.

“This was an amazing experience,” a member of the women’s soccer team wrote in the survey. “And I learned a lot, especially on Zoom.”

However, other respondents were less impressed by the program.

“I really enjoyed her programming and enthusiasm,” a member of the women’s basketball team wrote in the survey. “But I did not feel like the training advanced my understanding of this work.”

“Jen was a very engaging presenter, and I think the session was a good baseline educational session,” a member of the sailing team wrote in the survey. “But I would have liked to go more in depth with certain issues. I also think it would have been even better if we could have done it just within one team at a time, so it was more tailored to where our team is with DEI work …  I think different teams are in very different places with DEI work.”

In its latest update to the DEI action plan, the department outlined clear initiatives and programs that will be taken up this spring and next fall. However, only 54 percent of respondents to this survey knew about these new programs and initiatives.

Moreover, while DEI work within the department has been enthusiastically attended by student athletes, only 64 percent of respondents said they had participated in DEI work outside athletics. Further, some student athletes said they are feeling tired of focusing on DEI issues.

“My team has had a meeting every week since the summer, and we haven’t had a single team meeting about … lacrosse,” a member of the men’s lacrosse team wrote in the survey. “I think DEI is something we should be focused on, but I think that the athletic department has turned its sports teams into social workers.”

Other athletes believe that the restriction of DEI programming to athletics is not the best move.

“I think it’s great [that] they are making such an effort with DEI training in athletics, but they should really be doing school-wide workshops and training,” a member of the softball team wrote in the surveys. “Athletes aren’t the only ones who could benefit from DEI work.”

Students who are members of two teams have only been identified as being a member of one of those teams to preserve anonymity.


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