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Diversity data in Athletics leads to questions about recruiting and DEI

November 17, 2023

The NESCAC Admissions Statement proclaims a commitment to “building equitable and inclusive communities that represent many dimensions of diversity.”

While the NESCAC enforces recruiting guidelines for all member colleges, “each NESCAC member college maintains its own set of practices to select a class.”

One dimension of diversity is racial diversity. Bowdoin sports teams have been more successful than their NESCAC peers in recruiting student-athletes of color. However, Bowdoin has struggled with increasing and maintaining racial diversity among its athletic staff compared to other NESCACs. Along with changes in DEI requirements, these all leave an unclear answer to Bowdoin’s future in recruiting and DEI work.

Diversity by the numbers

While the athletic department did not publish the percentage of student-athletes of color for the Class of 2024 and 2025, Ashmead White Executive Director of Athletics Tim Ryan revealed to the Orient that, from the Class of 2024 to 2027, the percentage of student-athletes of color within athletics has increased from 19 percent to 25 percent. Bowdoin did not publish data prior to the Class of 2024.

Nevertheless, for the past four years, Bowdoin’s recruit diversity rate has remained above NESCAC averages. According to the most recent data, the average percentage of student athletes of color in NESCAC schools for the Class of 2026 was roughly 24 percent—four percent lower than Bowdoin’s recruited Class of 2026.

Racial diversity among Bowdoin recruits remains significantly lower than that of the student body overall. In the last four years, the percentage of students of color for each incoming class has ranged between 38 percent and 46 percent. On average, the diversity rate difference between recruits of color and non-recruited students of color is around 21 percent.

This diversity difference between student-athlete recruits and the student body is not ubiquitous across all NESCAC schools. In Amherst’s Class of 2026, the percentage of athletes of color increased to 42 percent, while the students of color represented 49 percent of the student body. Since 2017, Amherst Athletics changed their recruitment process to focus on finding student athletes from underrepresented areas and communities.

NESCAC schools are less racially diverse relative to the entire NCAA Division III by an average of 3 percent. For the Class of 2026, the percentage of NESCAC student athletes of color neared 24 percent, while the percentage of student athletes of color in Division III hovered around 28 percent.

Diversity rates among Bowdoin athletics staff and coaches have fallen behind compared to their NESCAC peers. In 2020, only 4 percent of Bowdoin athletic staff members identified as people of color, while the average staff of color percentage across NESCAC schools was 11.2  percent. In 2021, this increased but was still below the NESCAC average. Since then, the difference between the NESCAC average and Bowdoin’s athletic staff diversity rate has continued to widen.

Diversity’s relationship to recruiting

Both administration and students speculate as to whether a racially diverse athletic staff may be connected with a more racially diverse incoming student athlete class.

“In 2018, the men’s basketball team hired a new assistant coach of color,” Jai DuVal ’24, co-president of the Athletes of Color Coalition (AoCC), said. “By the next year, the men’s basketball team roster had more athletes of color.”

There are two dynamics at play in the correlation between athletic staff and student athlete recruitment diversity. First, coaches of color may be more inclined to search and recruit from underrepresented communities. Second, athletes of color may feel more comfortable committing to play in an environment with staff who may connect with their experiences.

“The coach of color may see that recruit in themselves and vice versa,” DuVal, who is also a member of the women's basketball team, said.

“As we want to increase diversity on our teams, we would like to increase diversity on our staff as well.… It adds an experience for everybody to have diverse perspectives and backgrounds,” Associate Director of Athletics for Operations, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Katie Greene said.

Hiring process changes with the aim of increasing diversity among staff include asking DEI-specific questions and including one representative from the athletic department’s DEI committee throughout the interview process. Moreover, assistant coaches are now selected by a committee interview process rather than by the head coach of the respective athletic team.

Nevertheless, athletic staff diversity is one among a wide range of factors hampering the prospect of a more diverse recruiting class. Football player and AoCC co-president Jordin Young ’23 sees issues with Bowdoin’s location.

“It’s very hard to convince student athletes of color to uproot and move to Maine. From firsthand experience, it took a decent amount of convincing for me to commit to Bowdoin,” Young said. “That’s nothing Bowdoin-specific, but more a general fact that Maine is the whitest state in the country is not very appealing for student athletes of color, although Bowdoin is a great school.”

The continuation of DEI work

DEI requirements in the department have also changed. In September, Greene released the fifth update to the athletics department’s DEI action plan.

Last year, all athletic teams were required to have at least one DEI-related meeting per month. This year, the requirement has been lowered to two total DEI meetings per semester.

Greene said this change is to increase the quality and focus of DEI meetings. Now, the focus of the meetings has shifted toward individualized and flexible approaches for each athletic team.

“The two meetings a semester are dedicated so that deeper work can get done, more meaningful conversations can happen, as opposed to maybe just 10 minutes after practice,” Greene said.

“We've done a lot of work to raise our baseline of [DEI] knowledge and our training amongst staff and student athletes so that we can now maintain them,” Greene said. “Our goal was to have DEI training and conversation become very common within our athletic department.”

Based on surveys last year, DEI efforts at Bowdoin athletics have been a success in athletics. 86 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they feel comfortable talking with someone in the athletics department about DEI issues (an increase of 16 percent since 2021).

DEI work varies between athletic teams

The track and field and cross country teams are among the largest teams on campus. Cross country captain Matt Audi ’24 noted that the track and field teams have had a DEI committee for three years, while the cross country teams began their DEI committee this year. DEI committees for athletic teams are not mandated by the athletics department.

The cross country’s DEI committee drafted a separate action plan and started a book club over the summer, reading a Black runner’s memoir that sought to break down the supposed egalitarian narrative of running. During the season, the cross country team hosts 20 minute DEI meetings and optional drop-in lunches on alternating weeks.

“We want to address structural factors and make everyone feel included.… [However,] all these are buzzwords unless you’re trying to make them actionable,” Audi said.

The cross country team has more availability to discuss DEI matters in-season because they compete in meets every two weeks, while most teams may play one—if not multiple games per week.

“We are not quite as intense during our competition season as some other teams are because we have a year-round commitment,” Audi said. “So, we try to spread our [DEI work] out.”

The women’s ice hockey team also self-initiated a DEI committee last year.

“[Last year], in our DEI committee, we led the discussion on identity and posted up news articles and charts pertaining to DEI work and seeing other perspectives,” Anyi Sun ’26, AoCC treasurer and a women’s ice hockey player, said.

This year, however, the women’s ice hockey has not reinstated its DEI committee, but the team has completed one of its required DEI meetings on the same topic as last year—the identity wheel.

As the off-season approaches for fall sports, athletes remain hopeful about what is to come.

“In the off-season, you have a lot more time on your hands, you could probably have a DEI meeting every two weeks even,” DuVal said. “But in-season, I think it’s very difficult.”


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