In September 2020, Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan sent an email to all athletes and coaches outlining the athletic department’s plan to combat internal racial inequalities. After the initial email was sent 17 months ago, the department’s commitment to increase staff diversity has come to fruition.
Just a year after the inciting email from Ryan, the percentage of staff and coaches of color has improved from four percent to 13 percent for the 2021-2022 year. Despite the improvement, the mark still falls short of the average diversity rates among collegiate coaching staff at the national level.
However, it was not until after consulting the student-organized Athletes of Color Coalition (AoCC) that the department decided to prioritize diversity and actively pursue such changes.
“We worked closely with the AoCC to understand the challenges that athletes of color were having during their experience at Bowdoin,” Ryan said. “[We stepped] back into the holistic look [and] in the way that we approach our recruiting practices and the experiences that students have while they’re here on campus.”
Changing hiring practices to increase diversity in candidate pools has been a recent priority for the department. On average, roughly 32 percent of collegiate coaches across the country are of color, yet during the 2020-2021 academic school year, Bowdoin was 28 percentage points below the national average. Ryan believes that this lack of diversity originated from years of systematically flawed hiring practices.
“I think there have historically been practices in hiring that focused primarily on people that we might have known previously,” Ryan said. “And when you don’t have an overly diverse staff, and that approach is prevalent, you’re unlikely to be able to make great strides in diversifying your staff.”
Over the course of the past year, the diversity within the athletic department has increased by more than 200 percent. Whereas the current 13 percent diversity rate is an improvement from the previous year’s tally, Ryan wants to ensure that diversity remains a focus in the department’s hiring practices moving forward.
“We put in place some new practices for our hiring process. We instituted a process for hiring assistant coaches which mirrors the process that we have had in place for head coaches,” Ryan said. “We have some structures in place that were not in place before that help ensure that we conduct thorough search processes, develop deep candidate pools, and, in the end, end up hiring the best person for the job.”
Ryan said he believes that developing diverse candidate pools is only the first step in making the athletic department a more inclusive space.
“The important thing for us is diversity and inclusion go hand in hand, and we need to be prepared to have an inclusive community within our athletic department,” Ryan said. “[We need to] make sure that we’re retaining the great candidates that we’re able to bring to campus. That is something that we will continue to focus on in the years ahead.”
Looking back on the past year and a half, Ryan is increasingly proud of the new faces of the athletic department.
“The thorough searches last year yielded great people who have come to our community and brought their own unique perspectives and previous experiences that have helped make our department better,” Ryan said. “And that will continue to help provide a better experience for our athletes going forward.”