Following the retirement of longtime men’s track and field Head Coach Peter Slovenski, the athletic department announced on March 31 that Lara-Jane (LJ) Que, Head Coach of the women’s track and field program, will be stepping into the role of Head Coach for the men’s program as well this June.
Que arrived at Bowdoin in 2017 with an impressive athletic background. During her collegiate Track and Field career at the University of Rhode Island, she was elected team captain and earned multiple all-conference honors. Later, she coached at Smith College. She credits these experiences with developing the “constant growth” mindset that has allowed her to be so successful.
“It’s about understanding and accepting that I don’t know everything, and always being curious to learn more,” Que said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “The athletes really shape our program, so it’s important for me to receive feedback and have a constant two-way dialogue between myself and members of the team to understand if they’re being heard.”
To prepare for the responsibility of overseeing an additional team, Que has been reflecting on her past coaching experiences and attempting to translate them to the men’s team in a meaningful way.
“I’ve done a brain dump of what I’ve already done for the women’s team for the past two years and written down what I want to do in a way that fulfills the desires and the goals of the men’s team,” she said. “My first priority is to merge both programs over the summer so that we can have the same goals for upcoming seasons.”
One of Que’s main objectives is to mitigate the social divisions linked to the practice of separating sports teams by gender identity. She hopes to unite the men’s and women’s teams into one entity, similar to the sailing or nordic skiing teams.
“In the past, the teams have always been referred to separately as ‘Men’s and Women’s,’ so my main goal is to change the language. It’s not a Men’s and Women’s program, but a Track and Field program,” she said. “I think that altering the language a bit will lead to a larger sense of community.”
Que said she hopes that, under her guidance, the full track team will engage in difficult and honest conversations surrounding race, gender and personal identity—topics that she has explored with the women’s team as their head coach.
“The men’s team needs that same safe space where they can get to know each other outside of their athletic identity,” she said.
Issues concerning Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) have always been an integral part of Que’s career, both on and off the track.
“[DEI] is a topic that is near and dear to my heart,” she said. “As a woman of color and immigrant with Southeast Asian heritage, this topic is a part of who I am and a part of my coaching philosophy.”
Last summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, she and the women’s team developed ways the team could contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement. For example, Que and three athletes organized and participated in a fundraiser called “Bear the Torch” in which team members and Bowdoin community members united to collectively travel 3,000 miles on foot.
At the conclusion of the one-week fundraiser, the proceeds totaled nearly $7,000.
“We wanted to raise funds for Black-Owned Maine, a local nonprofit organization that supports Black-owned businesses and gives microgrants to Black families and communities across the state,” Que said. “Participants pledged a certain number of miles to run or walk, and supporters had the option of either donating one cent per mile or donating a set amount of money.”
In the future, Que wants to keep the same momentum she has gained in her time at Bowdoin thus far. Despite increased opportunities for competition and the guarantee of a busier athletic schedule starting this fall, she plans on keeping DEI discourse at the forefront of the team’s agenda by integrating it into the daily lives of her athletes.
“It’s the little things every day that will keep our momentum going,” Que said. “We are going to journal based on prompts that I provide and share what we write about in our journal entries.”
To supplement these team-wide discussions, Que hopes to hold one-on-one meetings with each of her athletes in order to make them feel more comfortable discussing such complex and disturbing topics.
“We need to normalize these conversations, both in and out of practice,” she said. “[Team members] need to keep sharing their thoughts. I can’t do this work alone.”