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Social Class Awareness and Colby Athletics

As college student-athletes, members of this group have been exposed to social-class diversity throughout our athletic careers. Especially given the sports we play, as two of us play basketball and the other two play football, we have played on teams composed of people from diverse class backgrounds. Upon arriving at the College, however, we were part of teams whose social-class compositions were foreign to us. Currently, Colby Men’s Basketball  and Colby Men’s Football have a disproportionately high number of athletes from privileged social class backgrounds.

Unfortunately, the percentage of athletes from high socioeconomic statuses is not unique to the men’s basketball and football teams. The absence of athletes from diverse social class backgrounds is an issue that affects most of the sports teams at the College. Despite some administrative efforts to ameliorate the lack of social-class diversity in athletics, this issue continues to plague both the College’s Athletic Department and Administration. In many ways, the lack of social-class diversity within the athletic department mirrors the lack of social-class diversity that defines the College’s student body, as the College has more students from families in the top one percent than families from the bottom 60 percent.

Despite being exposed to high levels of social-class diversity throughout our athletic careers, being members of teams with relatively low numbers of athletes on financial aid forced us to consider where the lack of social-class diversity in the College’s athletic programs comes from. Thus, the goal of our Social Class Awareness Project is to understand how the recruiting practices that the College’s coaches have adopted limit the social-class diversity on their teams, as well as the aspects of the College’s goals that make it difficult for coaches to recruit students of color.

For our social class awareness event, we decided to have a panel discussion that invites people from the College community to learn more about the recruitment process for coaches on campus. Through this discussion, we hope to hear different perspectives on how we can improve the lack of social-class diversity on sports teams here on campus. Through the conversations with coaches thus far, we understand that individuals coming from low-income groups are mostly represented by students of color here at the College.

The majority of students that are recruited to sports teams at the College are recruited from expensive prep schools that primarily consist of white students. Through briefly speaking with some of the coaches, we noticed a significant number of the College’s athletes have attended elite prep schools belonging to the NEPSAC (New England Prep School Athletic Conference). Given this pattern of the College networking with the NEPSAC, we wonder if there are any components of these schools that make recruits from the schools particularly favorable for the College’s coaches.

The recruitment from this particular conference attracts students from high levels of income. While selecting one random NEPSAC school, the Brooks School, the white student population amounted to 73.3 percent, similar to the College’s, which is 60.7 percent. The lack of low-income level students attending these elite schools causes a serious lack of diversity on sports teams. In order to see improvement in the representation of students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, which in turn will lead to a higher percentage of people of color at the College, coaches should seek out recruits from lower-income school districts. This act would promote more opportunities for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to obtain higher education and the ability to network with other successful individuals.

The abundance of upper-class students on this campus exposes the class privilege that is reproduced by the College. Upper-class individuals tend to isolate themselves from individuals of lower-income backgrounds. According to Michael S. Kimmel and Abby Ferber’s book, Privilege, “The goal of elites is sufficient social distance and geographical isolation to separate themselves from people of other classes, races, or ethnic groupings and to be in the proximity of others from their own social group.” If there became a new focus on trying to provide socioeconomic mobility for students coming from low-income backgrounds, it would in effect benefit the well-being of students at the College. Creating a more diverse space with students from all different backgrounds will help the College’s students become more aware of different perspectives and beliefs in society.

The culture of handpicking students from prestigious NEPSAC schools has been ingrained in coaches and admissions officers for years at elite institutions like the College. We believe coaches see this as a norm and the safe route. In our reading of Bourdieu’s Forms of Capital, we connected these elite preparatory schools as a ‘rite of passage’ to recruitment for the College’s athletes. Coaches have been taught to recruit from these schools because it is a safe bet due to these student-athletes having already exemplified how they can balance a rigorous athletic and academic schedule, and they believe it translates easily into the College. Taking a chance on a student from a lower socioeconomic status and a non-elite school is deemed as a gamble because they haven’t been exposed to the elite pathway of education on top of sports.

These recruiting ideologies narrow the options for social class, as we know nearly 75 percent of these NEPSAC schools are dominated by white, upper-class students. Therefore, the social class diversity at the College has been extremely low with the majority of team makeups being created through this upper-class pipeline. The reproduction of social class on the College’s athletic teams can be attributed to coaches’ recruiting methods and the fascination of this scholastic capital that students from elite high schools obtain. Scholastic capital is a form of cultural capital that reinforces the rites of passage into elite places such as the College. We want to use the panel of coaches to increase awareness in creating change to these recruiting strategies and see what the College is doing moving forward to abandon this narrow-minded approach.

bell hooks’s essay “Coming to Class Consciousness” shows the importance of awareness of class identity and how it intersects with race, gender, and other forms of oppression. It inspired our group to have the coaches come together, recognizing the ways in which societal structures of elite institutions privilege some groups while marginalizing others. We want these difficult conversations about recruitment to address the problem of under-recruitment of student-athletes from lower-class backgrounds at the College. bell hooks describes how uncomfortable she felt being in these elite spaces as someone from a completely opposite background than the majority of her classmates. We want our event to bolster conversations surrounding how to implement recruiting practices that diversify the schools we recruit from and also how to make this environment at the College one where all student-athletes feel comfortable to commit to, despite the class status they come from.


~ Clay Bolster `24, Patrick Dei `23, Liam O’Connell `24, and Payton Reid `24

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