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Athletes struggle against 'dumb jock' stereotype

 From a Verney-Woolley Dining Hall segregated between athletes and non-athletes to rumors of athletes gaining a leg up over their non-athlete peers in admissions - certain attitudes and stereotypes persist surrounding student-athletes on campus. Some athletes report that these claims have elements of truth, while others maintain that they are unfounded. While individual varsity athletes have different college experiences, all athletes face unique challenges that help define their time at Brown.



Debunking stereotypes


There are certain stereotypes surrounding athletic culture that many smaller student groups do not have to endure. Brown has 37 varsity teams supporting over 900 athletes.


The most common misconception is that athletes "get easy breaks" in the admissions process for selective schools like Brown, said Leslie Springmeyer '12, tri-captain of the field hockey team last season. But she said these accusations are unfounded. "There should be more respect for us - we're doing all the academic work on top of an extra commitment."


The "dumb jock is totally a stereotype," said Allyson Schumacher '12, member of the swimming and diving team.


Robert Kenneally '90, associate athletic director for student services and the liaison between the athletics department and the admissions office, said the athletes are just as academically successful as the rest of their peers.


"Our athletes are valedictorians and have high test scores and are very comparable to the rest of the student body," he said.


The University will increase the minimum Academic Index ­- a measurement based on grade point average and standardized test scores - for admitted athletes for the fall of 2012, according to President Ruth Simmons' response to the Report of the Athletics Committee last fall. Seven varsity teams have averaged AIs of less than 200 in the past four years, according to Simmons' response.


"No groups should be stigmatized by their overrepresentation  in the bottom range of the AIs of a matriculating class," Simmons wrote.


A March 1 Herald article  reported that the average AI was 217, but recruited athletes from the class of 2015 had an average ten points lower.


Another stereotype is that athletes take the same classes and concentrations because they can help each other get through them, which Ryan McDuff '13, co-captain of the men's soccer team and co-president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, said is not true. Older teammates pass along advice to rookies to try to help them during their transition from high school to college, not to help each other cheat, he said.


To combat athletes taking the same classes, Director of Athletics Michael Goldberger initiated a program entitled "One For Me," currently in its second year, that encourages first-year athletes to broaden their course load by taking classes that none of their teammates have taken. Currently, four teams participate in the program - men's lacrosse, women's soccer and the men's and women's swimming and diving squads.


Many athletes do cluster in the same concentration ­- particularly Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations, McDuff said. But he said this is not necessarily due to their teammates' influence. "I also think it's because athletes are very competitive and can express that in business," he said, adding that he has four teammates who are biology concentrators and one who is concentrating in engineering.



A tenuous balance


As a swimmer, there is a smaller window of time to do schoolwork, Schumacher said, adding that she has balanced athletics with academics throughout her life.


Schumacher chose to concentrate in psychology and said her athletic commitment did not affect her course selection. Still, swimming takes a lot of time, and it can be difficult for athletes to handle a more demanding concentration, she said.


"I find (balancing athletics and academics) easier than most people would," said Dan Lowry '12, a member of the cross country team. Running "is a release from the stress of school," and he said he is always motivated to go to practice and to train.


Despite his continued enthusiasm for running, Lowry said he discovered that "the training was a lot tougher" at Brown than in high school. Most athletes are top dogs at their sport in high school, and once they come to Brown, they start at the bottom of the totem pole, he said.


For skier Kia Mosenthal '12, there is always a toss up between sleep and work, she said. "Something's always got to give," and athletes have to learn to get things done as soon as possible, she said.


The women's ski team skips a week of school each year for a big winter meet, and Mosenthal said most skiers talk to professors at the start of the semester to warn them about this commitment. For the most part, professors have been very supportive, she said, adding that as long as she shows motivation, professors are receptive to her athletic commitments.


"We have some really smart people" on our team, Mosenthal said. The AI for the women's ski team is very high, she said, adding that this high standard turns away skiing recruits who might be less academically motivated.


Since the beginning of his first-year orientation, Brad Thompson '12 said he has had to make choices between playing squash and academics. "You make trade-offs" between grades and the team, and sometimes "you don't really have a choice" between the two, he said.


Thompson found his new teammates to be an important resource in finding his academic niche. An English and applied mathematics-economics double concentrator, Thompson discovered his love for math from players on the team, he said. That exposure helped him be the best he could academically, he said.


For recruited athletes, the transition to academic life at Brown can be difficult, Thompson said, adding that "generally they are not as good at school" as non-athletes. With the added stress of navigating a new social scene, some athletes are also torn between academics and social pursuits.



Going dry


The squash team has "a culture of going out and drinking, which is tough in the beginning" coming in as a first-year, Thompson said. Some join fraternities like Sigma Chi and Delta Phi and take easier classes because most of their time goes into training and participating in fraternity activities, he said. Others, like Thompson, focus on athletics and the demands of schoolwork, he said, adding that he does not drink to "the same degree as other guys."


Like other teams, the squash team has a 48-hour rule, which requires that players stay sober for the two days leading up to any competitive play. Yet drinking is "a big part of the athletic culture," he said.


Thompson said he would prefer if athletics moved away from this heavy drinking culture. The "number of times some guys spend drinking during the week is not good for the athletic experience," he said.


The women's ski team stays dry for the entire competitive period of the season, from early January t
o late March, Mosenthal said.


Though ski team members are required to stay dry for the most competitive period of their season, cross country runners do not have the same requirement. Lowry said members of the cross country team know what they need to do to stay in the best physical shape.


"We are not the type of team to tell people what they can and can't do," he said.


The swim team goes dry for a month before their conference meet, and there "is definitely not any kind of peer pressure" during the off-season, Schumacher said.


"We go out together," said soccer player Kirsten Belinsky '15. It is an important aspect of teammates getting to know each other outside of practice, which helps them to work better together on the field, she said.


The best part of playing on a varsity team is "the sense of community you get," she said. Because the soccer team begins practice before the fall semester starts, first-year players start the school year with a group of friends and a sense of belonging to the school, she said.



Living separately


Varsity athletes are separated from their peers by more than just physical demands. Because athletes are constantly moving between practices and workouts, many choose to live on the north end of campus. Though closer to the athletic facilities, this may geographically isolate athletes from students who live on other parts of campus.


This separation partly results from the tight-knit community athletes form with their teammates. Upperclassmen on the cross country team live together, Lowry said. With the lifestyle that comes from playing a year-round sport, living with students that do not understand those pressures would be difficult, he said.


Almost all of Schumacher's roommates are on the swim team, she said.


Though the women's ski team needs to be able to relate to each other, particularly with the small size of their team at around eight members, it is better for teammates to live separate from one another, Mosenthal said. "We all need to take some time off" from each other, she said, adding that bonding between female skiers comes from the time they spend at a training camp over break each winter.


"My friends respect what I do," Mosenthal said, adding that it is always a challenge to maintain friendships with people outside of skiing. "It is really easy to get lost in your sport," she said.


Though he understands that teammates living together brings them closer, Lars Tiffany '90, head coach of men's lacrosse, said he does not fully support athletes isolating themselves from the rest of the student body more than necessary.


"Every year, the second semester freshmen come and talk to me about housing for the coming year. And I'm constantly pushing them to live in a situation that's similar to their freshman year," he said. "I try to tell them they segregated themselves once by being part of the men's lacrosse program - now you're going to separate yourself again by living with just lacrosse players in a fraternity?"


McDuff said athletes don't necessarily isolate themselves - sometimes it is just a habit. Because only one section of the V-Dub  is open during fall preseason, athletes end up eating there throughout the year, McDuff said, adding that he was completely unaware of this divide his first year.


But only teams that compete in the fall come to campus early, which may lead to increased isolation for those squads, said Cory Abbe '13, tri-captain of the fencing team. Since fencing is a spring sport, Abbe said she arrived on campus at the same time as the rest of the class of 2013, which let her make "a lot of close friends with lots of people in my hall." Most of her friends are not athletes, she said.


McDuff also said many of his friends are not athletes, because he participates in many clubs and organizations, and he said he thinks "student-athletes are starting to make more of an effort to diversify their friend groups."


 



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