It’s one of the busiest weeks of the year in college athletics—with classes starting or about to start and training and practice for fall sports in full swing. Yet approximately 40 women of color who work in college athletics will convene at Rutgers University on Wednesday for a mini-forum designed to explore and overcome the barriers facing minority female administrators and coaches.
“One of the things in college athletics is we all get so busy in our individual work lives and our individual niches that we don’t always spend enough time utilizing the resources that are readily available and reaching out to each other in a way that promotes mentorship, guidance and leadership,” says Jacqueline Blackett, associate athletics director for student-athlete support services at Columbia University.
Blackett, who will participate as a panelist in the mini-forum, is most eager to meet people that she’s either never met or only met in passing because networking is a vital tool for anyone who works in college athletics.
Emmett Gill, assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Social Work, organized the mini-forum in conjunction with the Black Women in Sport Foundation (BWSF).
“We hope the mini-forum will edify grassroots solutions,” Gil says. “By grassroots, I mean things we can do everyday whether it’s making a recommendation, passing along a job announcement or doing some mentoring. Our next steps need to include little steps and this is what we are going to discuss.
“Rutgers is the ideal setting because of the Rutgers women’s basketball/Don Imus controversy. It’s also the right place and the right time because we have no senior Black female athletic administrators and only one in administration period.”
Panelist Reyna Gilbert, assistant athletics director for student life at Virginia Tech, says this is the third institution at which she’s worked and she has always been one of only two Black female administrators. The Virginia Tech athletic department is making an active effort to increase diversity, but she cautions applicants that the job involves something more meaningful than just filling a quota.
“As long as my work and my experience have shown that I’m not there just for the quota, that I’m there because I’m qualified for the position, I’m satisfied,” Gilbert says.
She encourages athletic administrators to better inform student-athletes about careers in athletic administration beyond coaching. Also, individuals embarking on a career in college athletics should be open to exploring different avenues, she urges. Gilbert started out in academics, then went into compliance and now works in life skills.
Blackett says student-athletes should be directed to a wide range of internships, not just those that will slot them into the areas of academic adviser or enrichment support services, which tend to be the areas of athletic administration where you find most women of color.
“There aren’t a lot of women of color in college athletics that run the budget department,” Blackett says.
Among the questions the panelists will tackle are:
What are the “movable” barriers (issues that we can eliminate with some work) that prohibit women of color from getting into the athletic administration and management business?
What can organizations (long-term) or individuals (short-term) do to support female administrators of color?
How can we enhance the pipeline for female athletic administrators of color?
Topics relevant to coaches will also be discussed.
“BWSF’s efforts to identify the barriers that prohibit Black females from becoming college sports administrators and coaches [are] critical because no one else is up for the challenge,” Gill says. “The Women’s Sports Foundation is the diva in the business and they have not helped leverage opportunities for Black women or recognize the unique intersection they experience.”
“It’s opening a discussion,” Blackett says. “It’s training our up-and-coming younger colleagues. Forums like this and grassroots approaches are very helpful.”
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