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New Task Force to Address the Athlete/Non-Athlete Divide

In concrete terms, the Clearness Committee of 2018-2019 report gave a measure for the athlete/non-athlete divide: through the results of a survey distributed to the student body, it revealed that the differences in answers between athletes and non-athletes were greater than those found between any other two demographic groups on campus. In response, President Wendy Raymond and Dean Martha Denney have created a Task Force on Athletics and Community to look specifically into the school’s dynamics between athletes and non-athletes and to seek to find the best methods for improving them.

There are thirteen members on the board of the Task Force, including five members of the Haverford student body. One of these members is Leanne Ludwick ’20, who is also on the SAAC (Student Athlete Advisory Committee) and the women’s soccer team. While the task force is still in its beginning stages, Ludwick sees potential for the committee.

“Our Task Force is really going to kick into gear [Spring 2020], so we have not had a lot of conversations in person. However, I feel like everyone on the committee genuinely sees the need for changes in the community and wants to help make those changes. The Task Force has a great mix of members who are all very passionate about working together to address and hopefully, improve the tensions on campus that everyone has experienced,” Ludwick said.

The Task Force intends to address varsity teams’ living situations and uses of campus spaces, to pursue greater understanding about the school’s general intentions for its intercollegiate athletics, and to examine the weight the term “athlete” carries on campus. In May 2020, the Task Force plans to give a report to the community on its findings. The report will also provide additional suggestions about how the college can continue to address this ongoing deliberation.

There is much work for the task force to do. As confirmed by the survey, there are plenty of aspects that firmly divide the two groups on campus, like the “confluence of party and residential spaces,” comfort using athletic spaces on campus, like the GIAC, perceptions of team usage of the Dining Center, and the existence of a divide at all.

Beyond just the Committee’s results, many students hold their own opinions about the cause of the divide. Hikaru Jitsukawa ’23 said, “I feel as though the main divide is that non-athletes tend to be socially more diverse in and among themselves, while athletes do not, which creates a bit of an echo chamber among those communities.”

Mali Axin ’21 and Lauren Tanel ’22, two members of the cross-country team, suggest that the divide begins during Customs week. They recalled how hard it was for them and other athletes simply to acclimate into their halls because they had such big commitments to their sports, both timewise and socially. They also described that in turn, the halls come to see the athletes as choosing to separate themselves, when in reality the athletes initially don’t have any choice.

Axin and Tanel also highlighted the divide that they experience among the teams, and expressed their experiences as athletes who feel on the outside of the general athlete culture on campus. “It’s really hard being a hater of the athlete/non-athlete divide and also being an athlete,” said Taner.

Rasaaq Shittu ’23, who is currently a member of the track and field and rugby teams, attributes the divide more to the non-athletes than to athletes. “There is a general failure to understand why people choose to do sports, and why it takes up such a big part of their lives,” he said, “If you’re working toward the same goal and spending so much time training, you’re going to want to spend a lot of that time outside the sport together,” he added.

Shittu recognizes the exclusion that teams display, and thinks that “they could do a better job not appearing as exclusive.” However, he also believes that there is a lot of negative talk about athletes as a whole, which is a large factor in the divide. He claimed, “Non-athletes tend to claim that athletes did not get into the school with their grades like everyone else did, and rather got in just to play their sport.”

Reputations of specific teams are also common topics of discussion among students. The committee eventually hopes to understand these reputations and their implications more thoroughly. “I believe that athletic teams on campus do have reputations, whether that be good or bad, and through the committee’s process, we hope to be able to better understand them and their impact,” said Ludwick.

It is clear that the Task Force has much to accomplish. The athlete/non-athlete divide is clearly a source of controversy on campus but through careful analysis, the Task Force believes it can help ease these tensions.

[Correction: An earlier version of this article did not clearly state the number of students on the task force. It includes five student members.]

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