How one college is working to diversify its team rosters

At a time when many colleges are working to diversify their athletics rosters, Amherst College, a highly selective liberal arts institution in Massachusetts, says its initiative to recruit student-athletes of color can and should be replicated at institutions across the country, The New York Times reports.

In the NCAA’s most recent survey, around 70 percent of student-athletes, excluding those playing football and basketball, were white. The average among the 442 Division III schools, including Amherst, was even higher, at nearly 80 percent.  

Discovering new talent

“The prevailing model for almost all youth sports in America radically skews college athletic opportunities toward high-income families,” the Times writes. With the high cost of tournaments and club dues, many lower-income students are shut out of travel sports and left undiscovered by colleges and universities.

Recognizing that Amherst’s athletics teams were far less diverse than its student body overall, college president Biddy Martin three years ago pledged that Amherst would find a way to make its team rosters more representative. Rather than relying on suburban-based youth tournaments to surface talent, coaches also began exploring smaller gyms in urban areas, making blind calls, and traveling to more remote areas.

Prioritizing diversity

The effort may sound costly, but Amherst maintains that it has created a highly replicable model. “In terms of resources, we’re talking thousands of dollars, or tens of thousands of dollars, but we’re not talking millions of dollars,” Martin told the Times. “What matters more than money to travel is the effort, the awareness, and the commitment to diversity.”

Justin Serpone, Amherst’s men’s soccer coach, emphasized the importance of having administrators set that goal. “The most important step is having the college’s leadership tell its coaches point blank that being diverse is an overwhelming priority,” he said. “And that is something that can be done anywhere.”

Amherst’s initiative has produced encouraging results: Today, students of color make up about 32 percent of the college’s sports recruiting class. In 2002, a mere 11 percent of the college’s athletic recruits were students of color. Matthew L. McGann, dean of admissions and financial aid at Amherst, hopes to see that number continue growing. “My hope is success begets success,” he told the Times. “And you can see this happening on some of our teams that have been the earliest adopters in this effort. A team that is already diverse and has done the inclusion work appeals to more students who are looking for that kind of experience.”

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