Behind the Scenes: When the Campus is the Locker Room
I started the work that resulted in this article to coax a friend and former colleague who had left academia back into the fold. Disillusioned by working in departments that were theoretically student-focused but, in practice, clearly more invested in the institution, we were both increasingly passionate about research that uncovered this disconnect and, frankly, tired. They were tired enough to leave.
In our time together as residence hall directors and their later time as a Title IX investigator, we both saw students unfairly punished by departments that alleged to value them—and used them in marketing and recruitment materials—without having their backs. These high-achieving students were all-stars on the field and off but were harassed by their peers and coaches. They were failed by systems that were supposed to protect them but did not plainly because of their identities as sex and gender minority students on campuses designed for heterosexual, cisgender students.
My friend has since left and returned to the field of higher education and student affairs. With their blessing, I carried this work into the classroom in one of my earliest doctoral courses on the social psychology of gender, worked with the professor and other graduate students to refine the work, and presented it at AERA the following summer. I am happy to see it in print more than two years after I asked that friend if they wanted to submit something to the next meeting of a conference we had just attended.
This multiple case study analyzes institutional responses to sex and gender bias incidents in student athletics programs and messaging around inclusion and antidiscrimination between 2015 and 2019. This study seeks to uncover, understand, and work to transform the embedded institutional values that harm sex and gender minority (SGM) students on college campuses and in student athletics by investigating three cases at Canisius College, Columbia University, and Harvard University. These cases were chosen due to their active athletics cultures and high-profile incidents involving SGM students. Analysis indicates that institutions are likely to: (a) limit their responsibility for bias incidents; (b) individualize discriminatory behavior to the perpetrators, ignoring embedded institutional cultures; and (c) reiterate “zero tolerance” while failing to enact any material change for the SGM students harmed by both the incidents in question and the institutions’ vague and toothless policies. Institutions must commit to materially support students through proactive measures rather than relying on nominal and reactive action that only further serves to exacerbate discrimination.