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Op-eds, Opinions

Skahill ’21: One Team, One Family — Women’s Cross Country, Track & Field Weigh in on Excellence Initiative

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Thursday, June 4, 2020

On May 28, Brown University revealed that it will cut 11 varsity athletics teams and transition them to club status, effective immediately. The decision, which was made without the knowledge of the University’s head coaches and student-athletes, has been dubbed the Excellence in Brown Athletics Initiative.

The process by which the administration arrived at this decision, and the manner in which they relayed the news to the Brown community, taints this very standard of self-proclaimed “excellence.” Where the University should have engaged key stakeholders in the decision-making process, the administration chose not to. Coaches and student-athletes – the very individuals whose jobs and athletic careers are on the line – were excluded from participating in the more than year-long decision process that resulted in 11 varsity teams being cut. Instead of trusting coaches and athletes to take part in these tough conversations, the University made a unilateral decision about the future of the athletics program that reeks of paternalism. On the heels of student-athletes losing an entire season of competition due to the pandemic, the timing of Brown’s decision displays a callous disregard for the students and coaches at the heart of its athletics program.

Athletes and coaches affected by these cuts were informed about the termination of their teams the same day that a mass email was sent to all members of the Brown community, showing blatant indifference toward their contributions to Brown and their future athletic careers. The email sent to the Brown community announcing these revisions to the University’s athletics program indicated that the Excellence Initiative is meant to promote gender equity and diversity in addition to bolstering the competitiveness of the remaining varsity teams. Most notably, Brown chose to cut its Men’s Track & Field and Cross Country teams – two key sources of diversity – while replacing them with Co-ed and Women’s Sailing. In doing so, the University may have succeeded in raising the percentage of female varsity athletes to more closely reflect the percentage of women in the undergraduate student body, but its decision cannot be viewed as a “win” for racial and socioeconomic diversity. Moreover, this decision ends a rich, historic legacy of Track & Field at Brown University that began in 1878 – cutting a team that, in the past 10 years, has produced two Olympians, five sub-four minute milers, and dozens of NCAA national qualifiers.

As members of Brown University’s Women’s Track & Field and Cross Country teams, we can attest that cutting the Men’s teams not only undermines the racial and socioeconomic diversity that Brown purports to value, but also undercuts the excellence and competitiveness of our own team. Unlike other sports, Track & Field and Cross Country are unique in that women can train with men. We are a joint program. We are coached by the same staff, practice at the same trails and run at the same meets. In cutting the Men’s team, Brown University has robbed us of key training partners – people who push us to be our very best athletic selves, and are some of our closest friends. We are profoundly affected by the loss of our brothers in competition.

A running club is nowhere near the same thing as a collegiate track and field team, and to make such a claim is an insult to our sport. This is the opposite of excellence. To say that the entire varsity track and field team can simply join “club running” is testimony to how indifferent and ignorant the committee was in making this decision. A Track & Field team not only includes distance runners, but also sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers and weight throwers – athletes who cannot find a semblance of their sport in “club running.”

So what is Brown’s definition of “excellence”? Clearly, it does not appear to involve open and transparent dialogue. For the University, it appears that “excellence” hews closer to winning at all costs with no regard for the coaches and students whose hopes, aspirations and livelihoods are intertwined with the athletics program.

Whatever Brown’s definition of excellence, one thing is clear: If the Excellence Initiative’s commitment to “provide equal opportunities to men and women,” “advance the ideal of the scholar athlete” and “enhance diversity on teams,” held an ounce of truth, Men’s Track & Field would not be losing its varsity status.

Emily Skahill ’21 concentrates in Public Policy and is a member of the Women’s Cross Country, Track & Field teams. She wrote this article on behalf of the Women’s team, with input and commentary from several members of the team. She can be reached at emily_skahill@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

Kate Alvarez ’23

Maggie Baker ’23

Hanna Barakat ’21

Isabela Bartczak ’22

Flynn Begor ’23

Mary Bibbey ’22

Hannah Butler ’21

Jae Crawford ’22

Arielle Desir ’22

Katherine Dokholyan ’22

Lily Dumas ’23

Maddie Frey ’22

Ally Hajda ’21

Emily Kompelien ’22

Emma Madgic ’23

Ali Martinez ’22

Erin McMeniman ’22

Emily Moini ’23

Ify Ofulue ’23

Lola Olabode ’21

Bailey Pate ’21

Sarah Reichheld ’23

Felicia Renelus ’21

Sydney Scott ’22

Emily Skahill ’21

Maya Smith ’22

Lauren Stern ’22

Shira Stoller ’22

Margaux Terrasson ’23

Katherine Treanor ’21

Ijeoma Uche ’21

Samantha Valentine ’21

Serena Varner ’22

Kennedy Waite ’23

Gracie Whelan ’21

Amy Willig ’23

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