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NCAA Addresses Gender Equity: Where Do We Go From Here?

“An area within women’s intercollegiate athletics that hasn’t had a voice is the status of women of color,” says Charlotte F. Westerhaus, NCAA vice president for diversity and inclusion.

“They have general needs that are the same as all women and they have specific needs. There are issues of sexism and homophobia that affect all women in intercollegiate athletics. There are also issues of racism and classism,” she says.

Those issues and others surrounding equity and access as well as a look at some best practices will be on the agenda at the 2008 NCAA Gender Equity and Issues Forum, to be held April 27-29 in Boston.

In a panel titled Women of Color: Perceptions and Realities, Westerhaus will moderate as panelists discuss the often overlooked unique issues that women of color face. Topics will include the climate female athletes of color face, be it in media coverage or opportunities for leadership.

Westerhaus notes that issues of race and gender are considered divisive, and that prompts many people to try to ignore them. Westerhaus believes the opposite should be true. “If you are truly diverse and inclusive, you will need to at least recognize the value of differences of women around the table,” she says.

“If we recognize the differences and the commonalities of women around the table and work to support and enhance those commonalities, then we make progress. I hope the panel will be able to talk about how to enhance those commonalities so they’re not divisive. If you don’t give that voice, there will be an undercurrent for women of color of not feeling truly included as their whole selves, only as a part,” Westerhaus says.

Karen Morrison, NCAA director of gender initiatives, says: “Most of our attendees want to walk away with both information and some practical resources,” says. The forum will include ongoing Title IX training along with a range of panels geared to diverse attendees — those new to gender equity planning on campuses and seasoned veterans as well as representatives of Divisions I, II and III. “We’re not really at a moment where there’s some overarching, looming issue that we would be talking about. It’s really more about providing resources and policy strategies that people can use in their day-to-day operations on their campuses.”

Morrison expects a session on life/work balance to be heavily attended. “People are looking for personal answers and they’re looking for work solutions. How do you retain a staff? What are strategies that have worked at other institutions?” she says.

As athlete participation becomes increasingly diverse, women in general and women of color specifically are not highly represented among the ranks of athletic administrators. In data gathered across the three divisions during the 2005-06 school year, only 10.4 percent of senior woman administrators were Black. If historically Black institutions are excluded, the percentage drops to 5.7.

One woman of color who is an athletic director of a Division I institution is Irma Garcia of St. Francis College in Brooklyn, N.Y., the first Hispanic woman in the United States to lead a Division I program. She will be speaking about some of the programs she’s put in place for her student-athletes — both female and male — on the panel Expanding Opportunities to Diverse Students.

“We’re very unique in the sense that I have an open-door policy, therefore, conversations with the student-athletes are very easy,” Garcia says. “Because I’m a minority, kids tend to come to me — both men and women. I want to address some of their concerns and have a support group available for them, whether it’s career placement, dealing with the dean, their social lives or meeting with alumni.” She has forged relationships between the college and people in the community, so the student-athletes have community resources.

On that same panel, Pamela Noakes, executive director of the National Association for Girls & Women in Sport, will discuss her organization’s Play for Power 2, a program targeting minority and urban populations that don’t have a lot of access to sport. College students are trained to serve as mentors. “Right now, we’re looking for groups interesting in participating,” says Noakes.

Lastly on that panel, Dr. Alpha Alexander will speak about opportunities for diverse people on the high school, college and post-college levels. She will also discuss the Black Women in Sport Foundation, of which she is a co-founder.

“I particularly want to talk about HBCU institutions. A lot of HBCUs are not in compliance with Title IX,” Alexander says. “Many females at HBCUs are not aware of what NCAA regulations are. I’m trying to get the message out to prepare incoming students on the collegiate level.”

More information about the Gender Equity and Issues Forum is available at

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