University News

BUCC discusses athletics, housing

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Corporation’s adoption of former president Ruth Simmons’ athletic reform recommendations last year has led to positive changes for the University, said Director of Athletics Jack Hayes at the monthly meeting of the Brown University Community Council Tuesday. Highlights from Hayes’ first 138 days on the job and a proposal to extend the gender-neutral housing option to incoming first-years were discussed at the meeting.

Hayes, who replaced Michael Goldberger as director of athletics June 1, highlighted the changes that emerged from Simmons’ recommendations, saying he believed the University was a better school because of the changes initiated by the review. Those changes include a reduction of 20 admission spots per year for recruited athletes, a process that will be phased in over the next three years, as well as increased University funding for upgrading athletic facilities.

Hayes described the athletic department’s response to the changes mandated by the review, saying the department has worked with teams to examine the impact of practice and travel time on athletes’ academic lives and that he appreciated students’ engagement on the issue. He added that increasing student-athlete participation in activities outside of sports was a department priority.

Hayes said the teams that were under review and in danger of being cut last year understand what they need to do in terms of gaining enough funding for the resources they need. “That’s not a discussion I believe we’ll revisit,” he said. The Athletics Review Committee recommended in 2011 to eliminate four varsity teams – the men’s and women’s fencing teams, the ski team and the wrestling team. The proposal sparked public backlash from alums, coaches and members of the teams. Simmons subsequently recommended keeping the teams, and the Corporation adopted her recommendation last October.

Hayes also addressed the 9 percent reduction in admission spots for recruited athletes in each incoming class, saying coaches understand the change and are prepared to operate their recruiting processes based on the reduction. He added that it was still too early in the admission process to assess the exact impact of the reduction this year.

“While the recruiting activities for coaches are nonstop … the interaction with the Admission Office on how that is done is really just starting now,” Hayes said, referring to this year’s admission cycle for recruits. “Long-term, I don’t think there’ll be a significant effect.”

Hayes commented on the impact of new athletic facilities on the campus community, praising the new fitness center’s ability to draw more people to the area of campus where most athletic programs operate. “The new fitness center has been so helpful for our athletic program and bringing our program physically more in line with the campus community,” Hayes said.

Responding to a question from David Sherry, chief information security officer, on the impact of the cheating scandal at Harvard involving student-athletes, Hayes said he has brought up the issue of academic integrity with the student advisory committee. He also encouraged students to join the discussion about how to prevent situations like the one that occurred at Harvard from happening here. “Often, student-to-student discussions are probably just as effective in stopping this sort of situation,” he said.

The BUCC then heard about the proposal to extend gender neutral housing as an option to incoming first-years from Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn, Director of Residential Experience Natalie Basil and former co-president of the student group Gender Action Maddy Jennewein ’14. 

The University revised its residential rules in 2008 to allow sophomores, juniors and seniors to live with students of the opposite gender. But current policy does not provide this option to incoming first-years, who are assigned a roommate based on their legal sex. This policy creates problems for students who are transgender or are questioning their gender identity, Basil said.

 “What happens is that students who do not identify within that gender binary must seek accommodations outside of the standard process,” said Basil, adding that the University did not face problems with the implementation of a gender-neutral housing option for upperclassmen four years ago.

Last year, Gender Action, a subgroup of the Queer Alliance, initiated a petition campaign to provide first-years the same gender-neutral housing option as upperclassmen. In a fall 2011 poll conducted by the Undergraduate Council of Students, 79.6 percent of undergraduates indicated support for extending the option to incoming first-years, Jennewein said.

“We had a very broad base of support across campus for this proposal,” Jennewein said.

Eric Suuberg, professor of engineering and a BUCC member, expressed reservations about the proposed change, saying he was unsure of how the option would be implemented. He compared giving students the choice of whether they would be comfortable living with someone of the opposite sex to having to decide whether to join a fraternity during the first week of college, a situation he said he faced as a first-year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“It just strikes me as an awful lot of pressure put on the student at a vulnerable time,” Suuberg said.

Klawunn responded to Suuberg’s question by saying extending the gender-neutral housing option would not be a major leap from the existing form. “Students said ‘we want an opportunity to feel safe in our rooms,'” said Klawunn, adding that she has dealt with cases where students have expressed discomfort because they had to live with someone of the same gender.

“This is a values issue,” Klawunn said. “It’s important for our community to be informed and supportive.”

The housing proposal has received feedback from the Residential Council, the Campus Life Advisory Board, the Diversity Advisory Board and the Campus Life Corporation Committee, Basil said.

Basil added she did not believe a significant number of first-years would take advantage of the option if they were given the chance. 

“I think we’ll see an increase, but I don’t think in this first year that we’ll see more than five to 10. But I could be wrong,” Basil said. “What I know about Brown students is that we love options.”

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