Cory Abbe: Proud to be a recruit

Friday, May 24, 2013
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2013

When I went out on the first night freshman year, I told many students I was going to be on the varsity fencing team.

“Were you recruited?” they asked. I nodded. I had been recruited for the women’s epee squad.

This response produced two reactions. Fellow student-athletes thought recruitment meant I was legit, and non-athletes thought it meant I was stupid.

For the first time in my life, people assumed I was dumber than them solely because I played a sport. I was one of 225 students who got into Brown “because of athletic ability,” so naturally I had to be a worse student. Why else would Brown save a valuable recruiting spot for me?

I struggled with this “dumb athlete” stereotype through freshman and sophomore year until a rude awakening left me in tears at 9 a.m. on April 21, 2011. My fencing coach woke me with the news that a committee would recommend that the University cut the wrestling, skiing and men and women’s fencing teams.

The following week was one of the most challenging, frustrating, eye-opening and inspirational of my four years at Brown. And that week also solidified my dual identity as a student-athlete.

The other two newly-elected captains and I were thrown into a frenzy of meetings. We sent hundreds of emails, met with top administrators and developed a cohesive defense to present to the committee.

We compiled a list of our concentrations, our calculated GPAs and our volunteer efforts to show we were dedicated students. At the time, we had an average 3.7 GPA — the highest of all varsity teams at Brown. Our concentrations ranged from neuroscience to computer science to archaeology. My team and I deserved to be here. Never before had our role as students been presented so clearly.

At one public discussion meeting, other athletes showed up in support of the teams in jeopardy. I didn’t have many student-athlete friends outside of my team, yet we now stood together — the wrestlers, skiers and fencers with supporters from teams that faced little risk. After the announcement, student-athletes I barely knew would stop me to say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Let me know what I can do to help.”

I was seeing the student-athlete community up close for the first time, and they were so supportive. Never before had I understood the place of the fencing team within the larger athlete community.

It’s hard to escape a stereotype assigned to you when you step onto campus. Combined with my own personal self-doubt, and without seeing direct proof against the “dumb-jock” stereotype, I didn’t know what to think. Thanks to that week of crisis my sophomore spring, I fully integrated into the student-athlete community and saw our dedication all over campus.

I love both fencing and my concentration in Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations. My team and the other student-athletes helped me learn to be proud of who I am. I now embrace my recruited status. I, like others, had been recruited to be a student-athlete: both a student and an athlete.

Cory Abbe is traveling the world this summer and will be working as a project engineer in construction in San Francisco next year.