A few weeks ago, Julia Moran ’19 heard about a new development in the Leonard Center (LC) – signs were now posted on some of the weight room equipment reserving it for varsity team lifts. Seeing this as a signal that non-varsity athletes aren’t as welcome in the LC as team sports, Moran made her own sign “reserving” a space for herself and attached it to the lifting rack she was using.
“It was partially a joke, and also I was hoping a conversation would arise from it,” Moran said.
A conversation did arise. During her workout, head of sports performance Scott Hintz approached her and asked if she would like to talk about the signs and reservations in the LC. Hintz, Moran and athletic director Donnie Brooks sat down to discuss Moran’s concerns.
For Moran, the issue didn’t start with the signs. Since arriving at Macalester, she’s felt that the LC isn’t very welcoming to students who aren’t varsity athletes.
“I noticed it my first year when I started to work out. A lot of the space just is overcrowded and overrun with athletes,” Moran said. “[If] you’re uncomfortable with being around a lot of people screaming while they’re working out… it doesn’t really welcome you.”
While the signs weren’t the beginning of the problem, Moran saw them as contributing to it.
“I felt like these signs just solidified that and made it clear that the school’s priority is athletes when it comes to… the LC,” Moran said.
Brooks, who started working as Macalester’s athletic director this semester, intended the signs to be informative, not exclusionary.
“The reason why we put signage in our weight room is to create a safe environment as we serve a multitude of constituencies,” Brooks said, referring to varsity athletes, students, faculty and community members who use the weight room.
“It’s important that we let those members know where we’ll be so that they can know the open racks and how to best get their lifts in,” Brooks said. “What I don’t want is for anybody to come in and see the optics that athletics is taking all of the racks. That would be bothersome to me.”
Brooks hopes that both varsity and non-varsity athletes will see the LC as a space for working and learning. “The LC isn’t just for varsity athletes. Anybody who walks in this building… I consider them an athlete. They’re in here for a reason, they’re training for something greater, so, as soon as you step into this building, you’re an athlete,” Brooks said.
The divide between students and student athletes isn’t a new concern for Macalester, or for most liberal arts schools across the country. Before coming here, Brooks worked at Millsaps College, a Division III liberal arts school in Mississippi. Brooks saw a similar issue being discussed there, too.
“I think a lot of that [issue] happens because we don’t truly understand the opportunities and challenges that our other teammates and classmates are taking on,” Brooks said. “We’re all doing our own thing. And we see it from a distance, but we never really come and talk about the challenges that we’re facing.”
Brooks acknowledged that attention often seems to turn towards sports and can overlook other student activities.
“There’s so many students who represent our college in great ways and I feel like they should be acknowledged more, and the fact that we’re doing it on a field under lights sometimes can put us in the spotlight that other areas don’t receive.”
Brooks suggested the possibility of holding a forum on the student/athlete divide, an idea that Moran echoed.
“I think the LC needs to bring in more people who have different points of view who aren’t necessarily part of a varsity athlete team but those… who are just the general student body and who definitely have thoughts on how the LC is used,” Moran said. “Allowing them to have an equal voice in this conversation could greatly benefit how those higher-ups are viewing these signs.”
The Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) often discusses this issue, too. Oriana Galasso ’20, the president of SAAC, said that the organization often comes back to the question of how to bring athletes and non-athletes together.
“We’ve really been making some efforts this spring to talk about it and try to build our own connections across campus,” Galasso said. “Whether it’s trying to get people to games or things that we can do for the community, it’s come up at basically every meeting.”
Right now, SAAC is working on setting up a study space with a printer in the atrium of the LC. The organization hopes that this will attract both athletes and non-athletes.
Moran said she hopes for progress in how athletes and non-athletes share the LC, but her concerns run deeper than just this issue. She mentioned that sexual assault information, such as Green Dot bystander intervention training and discussions on Title IX, are mandatory for athletic teams and aren’t as readily available to the rest of the student body.
“I think that creates a diffusion of responsibility… almost as if these aren’t real issues we need to address anymore because we’ve had some sort of baseline discussion, and I don’t think that’s good enough,” Moran said.
Brooks did say that in an attempt to bring these programs to a wider audience, club sports will be required to attend Green Dot training starting next year.
Since he’s only been here for a few months, Brooks said he hopes to learn more about the athletic culture at Macalester. So far, he says he’s observed a lot of good things about the LC.
“The LC is one of the unique places…where you have services that help all students. You have a dining hall in the fitness center, you have a health center in the fitness center, you have a wellness center where you don’t separate athletes and non-athletes. You don’t find that at most schools,” Brooks said.
Both Brooks and Moran have high hopes for inclusivity in Macalester athletics. Moran believes there is always more that can be done to improve this system.
“Even though we may be a bit more progressive than other schools when it does come to athletics, I think it’s pretty dangerous to hold that as our standard and not push ourselves to go any further.
“There’s still so much work that needs to be done in order for people to feel safe in athletics and feel like that is a space that they can access,” Moran said.
Brooks is hoping to keep hearing from more students about what they want to see in the LC.
“It starts with a conversation. I think there’s some really cool things in the future coming, not just for Mac athletics, but for this, the LC.”