Last Tuesday, Angelina Mayers ’23, the Athletic representative for the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) and the Athletes of Color Coalition (AOCC) representative to the Bowdoin Student Athlete Advisory Committee (BSAAC), sent an email to the greater student body seeking opinions on the perceived student-athlete divide on campus.
Despite the recent emphasis placed on this issue by students and faculty alike, it has been observed at Bowdoin since far before Mayers’ collegiate career. Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan, who attended and played varsity football at the College from 1994-1998, spoke about the prevalence of the issue dating back to his time as a student-athlete.
“There have been divides within our community for a long time,” Ryan said. “At that time [when I was a student], the divide was between people who were in fraternities and people who were on teams and people who were not involved with either of those groups.”
According to Ryan, the general lack of intermingling between athletes and non-athletes can be attributed to a lack of mutual understanding along with negative stereotypes of student athletes.
“I’ve heard a lot of misunderstandings about how students who are members of our varsity teams are not also highly engaged academically and within our community, but my experience shows otherwise,” Ryan said. “Everybody in the [Bowdoin] community is a little guilty of making assumptions about each other.”
He also believes the perceived pervasiveness of the student-athlete divide may be exaggerated.
“Oftentimes, the perception of the divide is greater than the divide itself,” Ryan said. “People who play on varsity athletic teams are typically still engaged students who sit in the same classroom with the same goals for their experience here as everyone else who is not an athlete.”
Morgan Edwards ’22 echoed Ryan’s thoughts regarding the tendency of the student body to overemphasize the divide.
“I have not perceived the divide to be as stark as some people make it out to be,” Edwards wrote in an email to the Orient. I’ve always felt like it’s what one makes of it individually.”
However, as a former member of the men’s varsity basketball team, Edwards has gained a unique perspective on the college’s social climate as both an athlete and non-athlete.
“It is more difficult to cross the divide going from non-athlete to athlete as opposed to the other way around,” Edwards wrote. “Had I not come into Bowdoin as an athlete, I think I might perceive the divide to a greater extent.”
Edwards said that his awareness of athletes’ unique traditions and behaviors has increased since he separated from the basketball team. He now recognizes the difficulties non-athletes face when attempting to enter athletes’ social circles.
“I now notice the ways athletes exist in social spaces, such as areas in the dining hall dominated by sports teams and the use of sporting equipment and athletic facilities,” Edwards wrote. “I can see how a non-athlete would perceive a divide based on these dynamics.”
Maya Lamm ’24, who is not a member of varsity athletics, feels she has fallen victim to these dynamics in struggling to create relationships with student-athletes.
“When I think about the people I hang out with, most of them are non-athletes. Not because I don’t like athletes, but because I don’t meet them,” Lamm said. “The way I try and meet people is through CampusGroups activities, and athletes with busy schedules can’t attend those.”
BSAAC President Owen Wolfson ’22 expressed concerns about the divide, as well as the administration’s limited ability to create opportunities for athletes and non-athletes to meet.
“There is only so much the administration can do,” Wolfson said. “At the end of the day, it’s an issue among students and you can only program and manufacture student life so much.”
Allyson Hawkins ’22, a member of the varsity volleyball team and vice president of the BSAAC, agreed that bridging the gap between athletes and non-athletes requires student involvement. However, she believes that attempting to fully mend the division in one motion is unrealistic.
“I think that trying to fix [the divide] socially is too big of a problem to try and solve right now,” Hawkins said. “Whereas starting small and progressing might be able to change things.”
To spark the changes that Hawkins emphasized, the BSAAC is creating a “superfan competition” in collaboration with the BSG and the athletic department that incentivizes student-athletes to attend a diverse range of campus events and engage in discussion with non-athletes by offering prizes for each event they attend.
“This is an exciting initiative that would spike student-athlete interest in attending speaker events and theater performances and art shows on campus as a way to generate engagement outside of athletics,” Ryan said.
Ryan and Assistant Athletic Director for Communications Jim Caton have high hopes for future cohesion between athletes and non-athletes, crediting the College’s small size and inclusive, tightly-knit community.”
There is so much crossover in and out of the classroom [between athletes and non-athletes], which promotes the building of relationships between them,” Caton said.