Graduate students invited to leading women at college sports conference

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Lauren Hawkins, assistant director of student and athlete development (center) at the Conference of Women Leaders in Collegiate Sports.

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Lauren Hawkins, assistant director of student and athlete development (center) at the Conference of Women Leaders in Collegiate Sports.

Women seeking college sports careers at the U of A recently attended a conference to build community connections, attend leadership training and discuss how to achieve success in a male-dominated field.

Women Leaders in College Sports invited women of all experience levels working in college sports to Kansas City to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX. The conference had a record number of attendees, which included five female graduate students at the Recreation and Sports Management Program who also work as graduate assistants or full-time professionals in the U of A athletic department: Lauren Hawkins, Syntyche Laguerre, Nicole Edison, Erin Cox, and Icelda Tovar-Beltran.

As a graduate assistant planning to enter the field of athletic administration, Tovar-Beltran said she was thrilled to network with other women in her field. She said she felt reassured after connecting with moms who gave her advice on how to balance her dreams of parenthood and a career in sports.

Hawkins, assistant director of student-athlete development, said networking with other professionals is crucial for women working in college sports. The opportunity to speak with others with experience in his new role was helpful as he learns to lead from his role.

“Something that really stuck with me is the idea that you can lead from any seat. Anyone can change the culture,” he said. “I left empowered and with a new community of people working to make the student-athlete experience a great one.”

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Cox, a graduate student in the Sport and Recreation Management program and a graduate assistant in the U of A Department of Athletics, said hearing from pioneers in women’s sports was uplifting and instructive. The support from the Athletic Department for her attendance was heartening.

“Derita Ratcliffe Dawkins, our assistant vice chancellor, deputy AD for student-athlete wellness, senior administrator for women, and director of diversity, is a trailblazer in her own right and made it possible for us to attend,” Cox said. “Our RESM faculty were understanding and happy to excuse absences. Many institutions talk about investment, but the U of A is making it happen.”

Cox noted that there is still a glaring gap in resources, investment and power between men’s and women’s sports. Relaying a quote from one of the event’s panelists, Mollie Marcoux Samaan, Cox said: “Everybody wants to talk about the gap in results when it comes to men’s and women’s sports, like ticket sales, revenue, etc., but we failed to talk about the gate gap.

“As powerful as Title IX has been, we must continue to fight for the equitable contributions women’s sports deserve. That is a burden I will gladly bear throughout my career.”