Austin College, if you were actually serious about racial justice, you wouldn’t be cutting the Distance Track/XC team.
President Steven O’Day and Athletic Director David Norman, I’m talking to you. A college president has no business comparing people of color to disposable cars, and an athletic director has no business requesting a 23-year-old graduate not take him and the college president to court for violating civil rights at their institution. In our meeting, you both asked me, repeatedly, “What would you cut?” Here’s my answer: your racism. Stop enacting racist policies at Austin College. Reinstate the running coach and team.
President Steven O’Day: “Okay, let me ask you this. If you bought yourself an $80,000 pickup truck, and, two months later, you realize, ‘Oh my gosh…I don’t have enough to make payments on the truck and buy food.’ What’s your decision gonna be?”
Tori: “That would be — so, that’s a good analogy, except for the fact that the truck is not a necessity and the food is. So, people of color would be more aligned with the food in this situation.”
Steven: “That’s what I thought you were gonna say. And that, I think, frames your position on this beautifully.”
Tori: “And the truck symbolizes — symbolizes the other position [the concept that people of color are status symbols/diversity advantages benefitting a college and worth keeping, unless finances are strained, whereupon they will be discarded], which is the position of the colleges who are cutting their programs. You know, it’s just a matter of whether the college prioritizes diversity and inclusivity.”
On February 2, 2021, I had a Zoom meeting with the current president of Austin College, Steven O’Day, and the current athletic director, David Norman. I had requested a meeting with them to discuss their reasons for cutting the Distance Track/XC coach and program. Though I expected them to immediately reverse the cut, which severely harms opportunities in sport for people of color at the school, as soon as I explained the significance the coach and team present in terms of diversity and inclusivity, they instead unleashed a torrent of racism and personal aggression toward me that throws a red flag for everyone attending Austin College.
Steven O’Day and David Norman do not value people of color, much less their opportunities in sport. People of color have not been treated with the kindness and equality they deserve at Austin College. This is not the first act of racism Steven’s administration has shown; the college has experienced several discriminatory scandals of late.
What kinds of scandals? Collegiate official Tim Millerick, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Athletics at Austin College, has been fired due to proven discrimination at his job. Similarly, over the past year, once members of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) group on campus called the college out for releasing lukewarm statements supporting racial equality — statements conspicuously devoid of any reference to or alignment with the Black Lives Matter movement — the college confronted these advocates with legal penalties and cases. Considering the college was built on land donated by Stephen F. Austin, a historical defender and promoter of slavery, and his family, the injustices happening now are perfectly in line with Austin College’s prejudiced and unjust background.
Gregg Cantrell, a history professor at Texas Christian University, observes of the eponymous figure, “On numerous occasions when people raised this issue with him, he said, ‘Texas must be a slave country,’ and he put his money where his mouth was. He worked repeatedly and tirelessly to counteract the various efforts by the Mexican government to weaken and[/]or abolish slavery.”
Ironically, Steven O’Day is continuing Stephen F. Austin’s longstanding legacy of discrimination, at a college named for and built on land from the famous racist. Moreover, he, too, is “put[ting] his money where his mouth [is]” and taking financial resources from people of color.
The day after my meeting with Steven and David, a friend of mine, in response to my professed promise to stand up for people of color in sport at Austin College and prevent the discriminatory cut of the running coach and team, warned me to be careful. “Watch out,” she suggested. “You don’t know what they’ll do to you — they could go after you the way they did the BLM activists.”
I hope they do. In fact, as you can hear and/or read in the audio and the transcript from the meeting, published online on the Distance Track/XC advocacy website, they already have. And the more they try to hush up the discriminatory nature of their decision to cut the most diverse and least expensive athletics program on campus, the more they emphasize the fact they’re morally and legally wrong and fear the bad publicity resulting from their misconduct.
Nationally renowned civil rights activist and Princeton alum Russell Dinkins is in contact with me and supporters of our coach and team, because he’s no stranger to the racist college decision to cut a running program. Across the United States, colleges and universities are cutting their running programs due to coronavirus budget constraints, citing the universally unprofitable character of the programs at all three NCAA Division levels, as well as low recruitment numbers, to justify the choice. However, running programs, despite their lack of profit and low recruitment numbers, are essential for racial justice. In his research, Russell has identified three sports — basketball, track, and running — exhibiting high percentages of people of color at each Division level. That’s why colleges cutting their programs are facing widespread backlash and being forced to reverse the cuts.
Russell has played a major leadership role on behalf of the campaigns at those institutions. Brown University cut its men’s track team over the summer of 2020, in the wake of the horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the world’s consequent mourning and activism championing Black equality. Along with additional advocates of the track program, Russell got the cut reversed in twelve days, with Brown’s president releasing a letter of apology. At the moment, he’s in the thick of an advocacy struggle with Clemson University and the University of Michigan, colleges following the exact discriminatory logic Brown initially did, and refusing to revise their cuts.
Accordingly, Clemson University is in ESPN headlines: the college is confronting a discrimination lawsuit pertaining to its cut of the men’s track and field and cross country program. According to reporters, “The complaint asks the [Department of Education’s] Office for Civil Rights to investigate whether Clemson’s decision to end its men’s track and cross country programs violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which states that no institution that receives federal funds can discriminate on the basis of race, color[,] or national origin.” Clemson University and Austin College have practically identical backgrounds: the school’s namesake and founder, diplomat Thomas Green Clemson, was an avid slaveholder and constructed Clemson University on the site of his slaveholding plantation.
Why are Clemson University and Austin College named after virulent racists, operating on property gained from slave labor, and eliminating opportunities for people of color in sport?
Austin College has chosen to celebrate February, Black History Month, by joining colleges like Brown University, Clemson University, and the University of Michigan in taking away opportunities for people of color in sport. Even worse, Austin College is a Division III (DIII) school in athletic competition, participating in the Division level characterized by the least stringent, most attainable requirements for recruits and students to become athletes. As a result, Austin College is denying opportunity to people of color in sport to the greatest number of people of color possible. To see for yourself whether DIII running programs exhibit high percentages of people of color (as do basketball and football programs), in contrast with other sports, go to the NCAA’s diversity research platform. Unlike football, basketball, and running, sports outside of the high-diversity triad are predominantly White.
You can check out the diversity and inclusivity statistics describing Austin College athletics programs, specifically, on the Distance Track/XC advocacy website, via the Blog tab; the biggest points regarding the running program are listed below. At Austin College, the running program serves as distance track and cross country — athletes on the distance track teams are the same athletes on the cross country teams — meaning students of color have double the opportunity in sport through the program, two times more than they would in the event the program were merely a single sport.
Austin College is choosing to eliminate the program in its athletics department that is
- the most inexpensive and cost-effective out of them all
- the program with the highest annual percentage of people of color on both the men’s and women’s teams in its 6-year history (54 percent, collectively)
- the program that is the sole program to be led independently by one of a handful of coaches of color on the entire Austin College coaching staff
- the program that stands alone in ’Roo athletics history in having, at one point, achieved a composition of 100 percent student-athletes of color and coaching leadership of color (the men’s team in 2015 was all students of color, coached by the Hispanic coach)
- the program that is the solitary Olympic sport of the three sports civil rights activist Russell Dinkins has identified (basketball, running, and football) as containing high percentages of people of color
in order to put the money toward…
- programs that are more expensive and less cost-effective
- have lower annual percentages of people of color on their men’s and women’s teams
- are coached by all-White or 50 percent-White coaching leadership, rather than 100 percent coaching leadership of color
- and are either predominantly White or one of the two complementary non-Olympic sports, basketball and football, exhibiting high percentages of people of color across NCAA Division levels — with one of them being an all-male sport (and, therefore, closed to women of color), and both of them, at Austin College, being coached by all-White coaches
Highlights from my meeting with Steven and David revealing their discriminatory attitudes abound. First, there’s their failure to publicly announce the decision to cut Austin College’s running coach and program from day one, allegedly owing to varying considerations, one of which was the “courtesy of speaking with [me].” I emailed them with a request to have a meeting discussing the cut days following the cut; they had time to make an announcement then, and didn’t. Why would they tell the coach and team by word of mouth they were going to be cut, eschewing public recognition, and follow up by waiting to declare the decision…until the two of them had a meeting with a concerned alum? In and of itself, the refusal to make the cut officially known speaks volumes, but the added curiosity of their waiting to meet with me to determine whether they would broadcast the cut glaringly underlines their knowledge of the discriminatory root of their actions.
Moreover, in response to my explanation of the national importance of cutting running programs, why they’re critical to promote diversity and inclusivity at colleges and maintain opportunities for people of color in sport, and how Russell is helping the effort to keep our coach and team at Austin College, they retreated. Entering the meeting, they confirmed the team would definitely be cut. Coming out of the meeting, they assured me they were “re-evaluating” the decision on a civil rights basis. They were caught red-handed. Though they later decided the cut wouldn’t be undone, their balk at a civil rights complaint and their commitment to reconsidering their move powerfully illustrates their guilt.
Colleges and universities can prioritize people of color first: all they need to do is budget well. Running programs are the most inexpensive athletic programs colleges have. During our meeting, I encouraged Steven and David to budget more efficiently and consider unexplored options: doing research to find out which foods people want to eat and offering them alone to avoid the unnecessary expense of unwanted dishes, doing research to hire the most cost-effective utilities services and school transport, etc. Looking at the Equity in Athletics Data (EADA) defining Austin College athletics programs in 2019–2020, you can easily discern the running program is the cheapest and the easiest, financially speaking, for the college to retain.
If an athletics program must be cut, Steven and David should be cutting a more expensive and less diverse program. If Austin College values people of color in sport, the running, basketball, and football programs will not be cut — and absolutely not the running program, the most inexpensive and diverse athletics program at the college, coached by the lone coach of color leading a program independently.
Steven O’Day and David Norman owe the running program at Austin College an apology. Their discrimination against people of color in sport will not hold up in a court of law, as David notes in the meeting audio and transcript. They are afraid of the negative publicity their racist decision to cut the program will generate, as they likewise note in the meeting audio and transcript. Cutting the running program has marked Austin College out even more clearly for its leaders’ false dedication to people of color.
I am ashamed, and everyone at the college should be ashamed, to be a ’Roo as long as the Distance Track/XC coach and program remain cut. In place of love and respect for people of color, the president and athletic director are demonstrating open disregard and contempt.
Do the right thing, Austin College. Leave off with the hypocrisy, with the hollow claims to welcome people of color, and back your words up with actions. Reinstate the Distance Track/XC coach and program. To my fellows in the Austin College community: we have an ethical responsibility to speak up, demand positive change, and not be bystanders while people of color are mistreated and stripped of their opportunities in sport.