Are women in athletics represented fairly and equally? Let’s ask them.
The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) was formed in 1971, with Title IX law, a civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination, being signed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Women have been competing in athletics all over the world for decades and seeing as December is National Human Rights Month, let’s take a look at the representation of women in athletics through the lens of female Keene State College community members.
Sophomore Alice Loucraft has been swimming for much of her life. The Pepperell, Massachusetts native said that one of her favorite memories associated with athletics was a recent event that the KSC swim and dive team competed in. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) held their invitational over the December 3-5 weekend. “That was a really good weekend for us. I feel like that was also a good personal weekend because it felt like all of my hard work that I’ve been doing at practices had finally been paying off,” Loucraft said.
She added, “When I started swimming, so did both of my siblings, my brother and my sister. So, I think that was probably my happiest [memory] because it was all three of us together.”
Loucraft said her experience as a female athlete in high school was frustrating. She said, “In high school, most people at my school didn’t even know that we had a [swim] team because our school was so small that we had to co-op with bigger schools. My high school team consisted of six different high schools. I think that that was a big feeling of doubt for me because, I bet part of it was because I’m female and that most of the swimmers at my high school were female. We were pretty much completely overlooked even though me and one other girl from my high school qualified for states like every year of high school. It was just completely unnoticed and not talked about ever and I think that that was a big thing. Whereas other sports, especially men’s football and basketball where you know who scored and who did well in each game, with me and the other female swimmers on my team at my high school, no one knew.”
Loucraft’s experience as a female athlete has changed since she started competing for KSC. Loucraft was awarded the Little East Conference (LEC) “Swimmer of the Week,” for the week of December 6. She said being regularly recognized for her success has been a nice change of pace. “It’s everything. I feel like it’s such a good feeling because I’ve never had that, so coming to Keene and being recognized [as] a woman in a co-ed sport is amazing. It’s the best feeling, like we’re just as recognized as the men. When they do male swimmers of the week, then they’ll do female, it’s usually never just the men that are being recognized, even by coach [Chris Woolridge]. Like at practices and stuff we’re equal to the men which is a good feeling,” she said.
About her personal experiences at KSC, Loucraft said that people normally show respect for male and female athletes on the swim team. “I feel like, on my team, we are very much recognized and just seeing that continue I think would be the best scenario. It’s really nice and refreshing being on a team with men and women, and I’ll go into a lane that’s full of guys, like I’ll be the only girl in the lane, and no one thinks twice about it which is really nice. It’s not like, ‘Oh, you let Alice beat you in that,’ there’s like none of that, which is really a cool thing because we’re not looked at as any less than the men. I feel like it’s also very individualized based on the team, but it’s definitely more prominent in men and women combined sports.”
Loucraft said that in today’s society, and at KSC, female athlete recognition has room to improve. “In general, females, I feel like, are just so much more overlooked. If you think of [KSC] men’s basketball versus women’s basketball, for example, I live with two women’s basketball players, and you’ll see videos online of the men’s basketball [games], and there’s been one of the women. There’s been probably ten to twelve [online posts] made of the men, and then one that was posted like a week ago of the women. I think that more general recognition and the push of, ‘We see you, you’re doing well,’ goes a lot further than people think. I think that that’s something that would be effective,” she said.
Field hockey head coach Amy Watson has been involved in athletics for decades, most recently being appointed Senior Woman Administrator, the highest ranking female involved in the management of an institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.
When asked what her favorite memory associated with athletics is, Watson said, “For me personally, it would be the success that my Keene State field hockey team had when we were first starting to be recognized as a strong regional team, which was probably back in the late ‘90s.”
Over the years, both Watson and the athletes that have come through her program have been recognized with many awards and honors. Watson said that being a female athlete in today’s society is an exciting endeavor. “I think it’s a really empowering thing, not necessarily so much for me, but I think it’s empowering for our female student athletes to have that identity as part of who they are as a college student. I think it sets them up to be really successful. There’s nothing like being a member of a team and having to work together with people to [go] for a common goal, and the camaraderie that that builds is huge. I love being able to be a part of a women’s team sport. And it’s so much bigger now. When I was younger, growing up there were very few sports that you could do… But it wasn’t that you couldn’t do them, they just weren’t as big of a deal. The last 15 years or so, being a girl and being an athlete has turned into a really cool and positive thing, something they can embrace early on in their lives,” she said.
Watson said that she hopes female athlete representation and recognition at KSC proceeds to progress. “I hope it continues to be strong. I feel like Keene State provides a lot of opportunities for female athletes, and I think we’ve had some really strong women’s sports teams over the years at Keene State, and people acknowledge that. I’m hopeful that that trend continues and that it’s going to be less about female athletes and male athletes, and more just about being a Keene State College athlete, that we’re all under the same umbrella. Obviously, we embrace being a woman in sports, but it’s really nice to also just be considered a Keene State athlete,” she said.
Watson discussed how experiences can differ within different divisions of athletics. Earlier this year, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) faced scrutiny for gender inequality. Watson said, “For the NCAA men’s tournament, and this is on the national level, Division I, there were these really plush and exotic facilities for them to work out in and the locker room space, and then on the flip side, the women’s space was sort of barren and sparse and much less impressive. There became a huge controversy around that, like ‘Why are the men so important?’ and it really opened a lot of eyes to equality in sport. I think as a Division III school we try really hard to keep it equal, but like I said, I think you can never rest on your laurels, you always have to be ‘Is this good enough for everybody?’ and not just men and women, but everybody.”
Watson said that KSC can continue improving by remaining vigilant about how things are running in the athletic department. “I think we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and always reevaluate what we’re doing, always reevaluate what the perception is from the outside looking in. I think we work really hard to make sure that we create equal opportunities for all the teams at Keene State and I think it’s really important that we keep doing what we’re doing, but not be afraid to examine it and make changes if things don’t look equitable,” she said.
THE PRESIDENT KSC
President Melinda Treadwell has served and continues to serve in many roles, being a former student athlete herself, the head of the President’s Council of the Little East Conference, and a mentor to senior women administrators through the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
About her time as a student athlete, Treadwell said, “My favorite memories are about the friendships that I formed with those teams that, when we went on to post-season play, we just went through everything together. We trained really hard, we played really hard, we won and we lost together. There was something about that team performance that nothing else in life comes close to. When you’re playing to the best of your ability and you’re part of something that is playing to the best of its ability… I miss those memories but they’ll always be with me.”
About the roles she has held in the past, and currently holds, Treadwell said, “I think it’s about trying to be a good role model for young girls. I’ve been a peewee coach, so I’ve done camps and I’ve done peewee coaching, so I think it’s a really important thing for us to make sure that young girls, young women see themselves as leaders and as highly competitive athletes.”
Treadwell said she wants to make sure that she is providing a healthy image for the community and for athletes as a president. “So I think for me, one of my goals is to try to be one of the fittest presidents ever, so I try to run and stay active because I think athletics and committing yourself to something that commands you to work in a team like this is really important. So, as a president, I hope to embody that and I hope to create pathways for all students, but particularly for young women, to have opportunities and access because I think athletics, in many ways, because of that camaraderie, that leadership, that contribution to something more than yourself, is really important for one’s life. I just think it’s really critical to development.” Treadwell commented that former student athletes taking on leadership roles can be inspirational and can set a good example for how student athletes can give back once their playing time is over. “I’m the Little East Conference President’s Council lead this year and I think it’s really important for former student athletes to be in leadership roles in higher education because you bring an additional angle to the student experience, to your decision making and to your work.”
She continued, “Part of my role is to mentor other female leaders, so I’ve been a mentor for an NCAA women’s leadership group and there is a woman who is the associate senior athletic director and senior women’s administrator at UMass Boston, she’s been my mentee, and we meet regularly to discuss women in leadership and progression within athletics for women. That’s part of, as we opened and what I would try to do more of, is showing the pathway for women in athletics to become higher level leaders within organizations of higher education. That’s giving it back and trying to make a difference, even though I probably couldn’t even play with a team today, partly because I’m old, but partly because the team play is different!”
“Just because of where our society is, I don’t think people consider [women’s] games to be as strong in their competition, and it’s just not true,” Treadwell said.
Treadwell also said she is astonished by the ways things have progressed for females in athletics so far. “What I’m astounded by is, we have [the] WNBA and we have the women’s soccer association playing at world class levels… That didn’t happen when I was a high school student, we didn’t have a professional basketball league just in the late ‘80s early ‘90s. It was just starting.”
Treadwell said, “What I hope is, ten years from now, there won’t be a discernment based on gender about fan interest and about community support for women’s athletics, or men’s athletics. We’ll see gender inequity closing, those gaps closing, and in athletics more so than almost anything else, it should close. These are high performing athletes, no matter whether your gender is male or female or non-binary. We should find a way for athletics to be a place where it’s just about the competition, and it’s about the community support and the fan support that allows professional athletics to be broader than it is right now, not dominated only by a few sports and male dominated the way that it is.”
She continued, “I’ve seen that move in the last several decades and I hope we can move to the next level where we’re not a byline… And we’re on prime time TV for all of those games, just as much as the March Madness features the men’s teams at very high levels. I’d like to see the women’s collegiate competition getting the same kind of placement and then the professional teams getting similar fan bases, similar kinds of commercial support, so that gender isn’t the issue anymore, it’s just a really good play.”
Treadwell hopes to see KSC progress as much as possible over the coming years, to make sure that all athletes, regardless of gender, feel that they are being treated and represented equally and fairly.
“I think it’s really important for our institution to continue to invest, in very much a blinded way, into our athletics, so there aren’t, from my perspective, any differential lenses, regardless of whether it’s a men’s team or a women’s team here at Keene State. But, having said that, I think the senior women’s administrator, Amy Watson, part of her predecessor’s work, Amy Lyons, along with our athletic director, is looking at ways for us to incentivise growth opportunity for athletics in an increasingly expansive way, particularly for women’s sports and men’s sports together,” said Treadwell.
She continued, “Title IX commands us to not get out of balance, but I’d like to see us try to create even more opportunities for women and men and then, with that equity, I think it shows that our college, by having an equitable approach, women will benefit, because I think many schools tend not to showcase their women’s programs as strongly, and when I think about women’s volleyball and what they’ve been able to do and how successful they’ve been, I think about our swim and dive team, our cross country/track and field team, our basketball teams, both men’s and women’s, and the success they’re having, I’d like to see fan bases getting equalized a little bit, how many people show up for the games. That’s about marketing and pushing the message and the schedule, and making sure that we are equitable, because then everyone will see that we are not using a gender-based lense to determine our investments and we’re going to market more aggressively to draw the fans towards our women’s games in increasingly aggressive ways because they are great and their play is super competitive.”
Piper Pavelich can be contacted at email@example.com