The athletics department’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee has worked this year to broaden and deepen discussions on class, accessibility, race and identity that it facilitates within teams. The committee is currently reflecting on the work it has done this year and setting its future goals.
Topics for the committee’s discussions are selected by Assistant Athletic Director and DEI Coordinator Katie Greene, who was hired in 2020.
“This past year, we focused on really expanding the umbrella of DEI education,” Greene said. “While we continued to look at education on injustices within race, we started to expand our lens to look at LGBTQ-related issues, accessibility and disability, religion, socioeconomic status. We really started to branch out and start to provide training on more topics.”
In line with this goal, the committee formed an LGBTQ athletes and allies group, advised by Assistant Track and Field Coach Amanda Kulas. Recently, Director of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life Oliver Goodrich gave advice on navigating missed athletic commitments and fasting due to holidays for religious student athletes.
Greene aims to give teams leeway in tailoring the monthly required conversations to their unique challenges and needs.
“The size of teams, the demographics of teams, whether you’re in or out of season all kind of vary,” she said. “We really want [teams] to have freedom to let those conversations go in a direction that is meaningful and powerful to their team at a given moment.”
Off-campus team residences and party culture make discussions about DEI in relation to Bowdoin athletics particularly important, Greene noted. These topics were among those addressed by the committee this year.
“We’ve talked about mixers, we’ve talked about how people feel with security or Brunswick police,” she said. “We’ve really addressed taking a deep look at team traditions and how those traditions could be exclusive.”
Kennedi Carter ’23, a captain on the women’s tennis team and one of the committee’s two student liaisons, said that addressing issues of team culture outside of an athletic context is a topic that could be considered more deeply by committees of future years.
“Our focus for this year was definitely more on the athletic side and not on the social scene,” she said. “But that is something that could be a next step.”
The committee plans to move to providing annual updates on its work, a shift from the prior policy of twice-a-year updates. The last update was released in September 2022. Based on a survey of student-athletes, this update revealed that 89% of student-athletes felt comfortable talking with someone at the College about DEI issues, and 80% felt comfortable addressing these concerns to someone in the athletics department, a 10% increase from 2021. The percent of students who felt comfortable talking to a coach about DEI issues decreased from 90% in 2021 to 86% in September.
One of the most significant findings from the September report dealt with issues of class: 20% of student-athletes agreed that financial constraints limited their full engagement with their athletic experience, an increase of 7% from 2021. The committee attempted to address class disparity this year through hosting “Real Talk on Class” discussions and considering the financial burdens of expensive trips and gear in tandem with coaches.
Jada Scotland ’23, a member of the track & field team who served on the committee last year, noted that even fitting in time for the monthly team discussions can pose challenges for student-athletes managing academics and practice alongside paid job commitments.
Greene noted that DEI-related discussions can be valuable for all students but are especially useful within the context of the close-knit and competitive nature of athletic team environments.
“DEI work is just as important for all students and staff whether you’re an athlete or not. How it incorporates differently into an athletic mindset is that when you’re on a team … you have to work with them very closely for an extended period of time to reach common goals. So working toward inclusion is beneficial to reach those goals,” she said.
The committee is set to meet three more times this academic year. One final project is sharing a self-reflection worksheet to help student-athletes and coaches think about their own ability to advance DEI goals and assess how the programming has benefitted them or shifted their perspectives.
Scotland said that she has seen overall improvement in student-athletes and coaches reckoning with how they can work individually to improve experiences in the department.
“That’s a really important shift that I’ve seen is that personal connection … knowing who I am and what my identity is and how I can best support my teammates in what I know about them,” she said. “I think there’s always more that can be done, but at least for my team, we’re making some good progress.”