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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

SAAC and Real Men Make Changes

The Grinnell College Pioneers Athletic department has always been a strong presence on campus. With one in four students participating in varsity sports, the student-athlete experience is not uncommon. The past two years have been vital in shaping athletic leadership bodies including the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the Pioneer Diversity Council (PDC). Faculty, staff and students have made efforts to integrate athletes into campus life and resolve standing tensions between athletes and non-athletes.

SAAC works to promote the sentiment that student-athletes are typical Grinnellian students who happen to spend a large part of their day training. Encouraged to work hard in school and join clubs and extra-curricular activities, athletes are typically involved in much more than just their sport.

“We all get put through the same academic rigors and our time commitments are not more or less than anybody else’s, but they are pretty strict,” said SAAC member and football player Brian Westerlind ’12. “Planning around our days is something that everybody deals with. We’re still athletes, but we’re also just students the same.”

The organization participated in both Pride Week and Sexual Assault Awareness Week. They partnered with the Stonewall Resource Center, Real Men and PDC to bring speakers Katie Hnida and Esera Tuaolo to campus, semi-pro and pro athletes who struggled with their identities as members of traditionally marginalized groups in sports.

Real Men is an organization that also contributed to Sexual Assault Awareness Week. The organization, led by two football players, collaborated with Iowa Valley Community College for a walk in town to promote awareness and prevent of sexual assault.

When it comes to campus unity, Ryan Creps ’12, co-president of Real Men, is concerned mainly with creating a common sense of Grinnell College pride amongst the entire student body. Athletes and non-athletes are very involved in contributing to campus life. Still, concern about the divide of campus based athletic participation is a common sentiment among students.

“The divide isn’t as big as people want to think it is. It’s just there are some very vocal people out there who like to talk about it. I know that not everybody on this campus wants to be best friends,” Creps said. “I wouldn’t even say that the issue should be about unifying campus, but about creating some school pride because its going to be hard to unify 1,600 students. But if we all appreciate what Grinnell has to offer and we all have a love for the college itself, I think that that’s the bigger need.”

Coaching staff and faculty are impressed with student-athlete leadership, both in and out of the Bear. Assistant Athletic Director and Head Women’s Soccer Coach, Heather Benning ’96, is working with Assistant Athletic Director and Head Men’s Tennis Coach Andy Hamilton to supervise the department while Athletic Director Greg Wallace is on sabbatical.

“It’s been really nice to see Grinnell rely so much on student leadership,” Benning said. “You can have all the organizations in place that you want, but if you don’t have good student leaders, you’re not going to see results. I would say that [the athletic staff] has supported having these organizations, but honestly, what I think has made the difference is the student leadership.”

The football captains and coaches are also making an effort to develop a strong culture of morality and responsibility with the team. During pre-season training for the past two seasons, players participated in several workshops to promote this culture.

“For the last two fall [seasons] when we come back for our preseason training, the first five days of camp we’re only allowed one practice and a lot of meeting time. So for five nights in a row we’re doing workshops, or training, on a whole range of issues,” Head Coach Jeff Pederson ’02 said.

Football players worked with Real Men, Wellness Coordinator Jen Jacobsen ’95 and Student Affairs, among other organizations, to prepare for a successful year. Sexual consent, alcohol, diversity and other issues relevant to student life were discussed at the meetings.

The athletic department has also turned their focus to diversity in recent years. The initiative began with the appointment of Nnenna Akotaobi as the Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion in Athletics. Her position is paid, in part, by a grant from the NCAA. Regardless of whether or not the grant is renewed, the position of Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion in Athletics will remain permanent.

Akotaobi is one of two staff advisors for PDC and works with the student leaders to enable an open dialogue about diversity in athletics.

“[PDC] creates opportunities for [the students] to socialize and just kind of engage in different ways with different students from different teams. We have student athletes from all different types of backgrounds,” Akotaobi said. “Different socioeconomic backgrounds, different experiences, athletes and non-athletes all come together to talk about the athletic experience.”

Student leadership and widespread involvement also propels PDC.

“It’s really grown from what I even envisioned it to be and the students are just kind of taking it on themselves and kind of making it and molding it into what they see it to be,” Akotaobi said.

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  • C

    current student-athleteMay 10, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Dear Concerned Student – I don’t think these groups are any more intolerant or irresponsible. This is how many/most/nearly all of the GC athletic programs seem to operate. It also seems like we do education constantly – year round – on a variety of topics including diversity, bystander intervention, drugs & alcohol, community engagement, responsible use of social media, etc. In the last year or so, SAAC, Real Men, PDC and a variety of other groups and student-athletes have escalated these dialogues and education. Of course, this is not foreign to most athletic departments or programs around the country, but at Grinnell, it seems like athletics and student-athletes are oft the most easily identified affinity group. When these ‘controversies” affect us and our peers, our behavior is observed/criticized with a magnifying glass (and rightfully so).

    I agree with your point – the entire campus community needs to continue to step up its efforts in creating an inclusive, safe campus..

  • C

    Concerned StudentMay 9, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I am very encouraged by the steps being taken by the athletic department and specifically male athletic teams to instill in their players a sense of responsibility and a culture of tolerance. What I do not understand is why they seem to be the only ones making an extra effort. Are these groups more likely to be intolerant or irresponsible? The athletic teams are doing a great job of leading the way but it is time for the rest of the college to follow their lead.