A colleague of mine once stated: “If something doesn’t exist, then create it.” This comment made me think about the work we do with student athletes. All of us may not work with athletes, yet each of us plays a direct or indirect role in their experiences. I have attended conferences, interacted with colleagues, students, professors and have learned about the different approaches used when working with student athletes. Some are treated as jocks. Others are treated as students with one foot in college and the other foot in the professional sports world.
I am sure it is fair to say some of our student athletes are only in school due to their athletic abilities. But others are here because of their academic achievement. Regardless, our duty is to appreciate these students’ motivation for being in college and not treat them as a monolithic population. Our connection with student athletes must be consistent and in various roles.
Being a Liaison
The connection many of us may have with student athletes is through their sporting events or classrooms. We may also connect with them through the media. Yet, if this is our only connection, we have done a disservice by only seeing them through this particular lens. Our student athletes are more than just their athletic abilities or what the media portrays. We must use multiple lenses to understand their experiences, not our convenient lens. The most convenient lens to view our students is through the main interaction we may have with them. But as a Student Affairs Practioner, it is imperative to see beyond what is in front of you. How? It is simple.
Being a liaison is about maintaining a connection, not just when it is convenient. I recently attended our 2014 Spring Sing event and interacted with some student athletes. In a brief conversation with some of them, they said, “I didn’t think you came to these events,” and my reply was, “This is my first time, but glad to see you here, as well”. This brief conversation helps to maintain that connection. But more importantly, you get to see the students in an environment out of the norm and they see you in a different light. Understandably, we cannot attend every event; but the effort to be present goes a long way.
Being an Ally
While we cheer/support our student athletes at their athletic events, we have to provide that same type of support outside of athletics. Throughout this academic year, we have witnessed media attention regarding student athletes’ academics. to student athletes alleged misconduct . Unfortunately, these incidents sometimes give a negative perception but should not define all student athletes.
Our field commonly uses the term “ally.” It is a term used to show support to marginalized, oppressed, or unfairly treated people. Yet, this is a term rarely used when referring to student athletes. Why? Is it because they are admired? Or is it because we may only support their athletic pursuits? Regardless, student athletes need allies. They have different experiences from other students due to their schedules, media attention, etc. Understanding their experiences is imperative to being allies for them because they are sometimes unfairly categorized or treated.
Being a Partner
Student Affairs is about collaborating with colleagues. Collaboration is paramount for our field but in order to be successful with this endeavor, we have to be the frontrunners in partnering with every aspect of our campus, especially athletics. It is easy to not invite student athletes to programs, assuming, “They are busy” or “They won’t be interested.” But perception can be detrimental.
In my office, we provide workshops to students. Understanding that student athletes are on a tight schedule and may not be able to attend, we still reach out to athletics, making them aware of our services. This partnership has worked well, and athletics have, in return, requested presentations for their students. The partnerships we create are for the betterment of our students.
The Choice is Yours
Student athletes can only become better students with our dedicated involvement. The role each of us plays as a liaison, ally, and partner will help create a successful environment. Furthermore, this role will help those who have a misunderstanding of student athletes’ experiences; thus, potentially creating more liaisons, allies, and partners. So, how can you be involved with your student athletes? Through the lens that is most convenient? Through multiple lenses? The choice is yours.