By: Jen Jacobs, MA and Jen Fry, MA

Race. Ethnicity. Culture. Privilege. Safety. Security. Recruiting. College. University. Words that previously were not taken into consideration together during recruiting for a high school student-athlete. However, in the wake of heavily publicized, and often violent events that have occurred to communities of color, the current racial landscape in our country has been moved to the front and center of our daily lives regardless of our race.  These countless incidences are occurring on the grounds of colleges and universities, and affecting our student-athletes. The hate combined with the current political landscape have lifted up the discussion of how race; a socially constructed concept, plays itself out in American society.  College campuses, athletic programs, and athletic teams are not immune to this conversation and are also finding themselves grappling with the complex discussion, meaning, and implications. More and more evidence is pointing to the fact that athletes of color from diverse backgrounds experience the world, our nation, our campuses, and our teams from a very different lens than those who have benefitted from the concept of privilege within America.

To help frame the conversation of race within collegiate volleyball, let’s look at some statistics.  In essence, collegiate volleyball is relatively “white”. Data taken from the NCAA for the 2015-2016 season, shows the women’s volleyball teams are 74% white, and men’s volleyball is 68% white. Student-athletes of color, which encompasses: African, African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Multiracial account for only 26% and 32% respectively. The percentages of student-athletes of color are considerably low, and may not necessarily reflect the diversity of the United States. More often than not we only see one or two young women of color on volleyball teams and even less coaches of color within the sport.  

For prospective student-athletes of color as well as their white counterparts, an institution’s commitment to diversity and inclusion should be just as important as the other deciding factors when it comes to choosing a school. Likewise, club and high school coaches should familiarize themselves with institution’s diversity and inclusion plans, overall campus climate information, and the volleyball coaches commitment to inclusion as well.   

It is increasingly important now more than ever for recruits, their families, and the coaches assisting them through the recruiting process to consider the following factors related to inclusion. When trying to find the right “fit” for prospective student-athletes it is completely “OK” to ask tough questions around race and ethnicity. Here is a list of potential questions to use during the recruiting process:    

What is your school’s diversity plan?

What is the school’s strategic plan?

Does the school have cultural centers?

Is the coaching staff knowledgeable about the cultural centers?

If so, how?

If not, why?

Are other student-athletes involved with the cultural centers?

What is the racial makeup of your team?

What has it been in the past?

What is your student-athlete transfer rate?

Have you ever had a student-athlete of color transfer?

What is the racial makeup of your coaching/support staff?

What is the racial makeup of your administration?

What is the racial makeup of your academic staff?

What is the racial makeup of your strength and conditioning staff?

What is the percentage of students of color on campus?

What is the percentage of faculty/staff of color on campus?

Have there been any racial incidents on campus?

If so, how were they handled by the university staff?

Have there been any racial incidents involving student-athletes?

If so, how were they handled by the athletic administration?

When on campus can I tour the cultural centers?

As mentioned above, it is completely appropriate to ask these questions during the recruiting process.  These factors can completely affect a student-athlete’s collegiate career experience just as much as the location, major options, team chemistry, or coaching styles do. Prospective student-athletes, their families, and club/high school coaches must not be afraid to include assessing the institutions commitment to inclusion during the recruiting process.  Ultimately, the priority in the recruiting process should be on finding an environment for the prospective student-athlete that is safe, secure and ensures a collegiate experience they can thrive in. Race. Ethnicity. Culture. Privilege. Safety. Security. Recruiting. College. University. Words that need to be considered not only by the prospective student-athlete but also by those recruiting them.

Interested in having me come out and chat with your staff and or athletic department about race and diversity issues?  Please email me at bookings@jenfrytalks.com

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