The difference between being a student athlete and not is huge – at least from my perspective. I tutor student athletes for the University.
At first, I didn’t think critically about the job; it was just another tutoring setting and a way to supplement my income. Throughout my tutoring experience, I’ve noticed stereotypes that I’ve had to fight back, emerging from my own thoughts about student athletes during tutoring sessions. Some of these collective, negative generalizations swimming around are that student athletes aren’t at school to learn and that student athletes are way too over-privileged as students.
I think that the hyper-protective and, at times, really strange NCAA rules regulating student athlete benefits have reinforced some of these thoughts. I’m not allowed to interact with student athletes outside of the tutoring center, accept or give gifts, or ask too much about their personal lives. (We role played in training what we were supposed to do if we encountered an athlete at a party…)
Like most negative stereotypes we form about individuals or groups (generated by a lack of information or some nasty social structure that perpetuates these ideas), mine don’t really do that much good and mask larger social ills (inside myself, the stereotyper, and within the surrounding environment). I do, however, find myself questioning the equity of student athletes receiving personal academic advisers, atop departmental ones, personal tutors and sole access to study in the Ross Academic Center. Sure, some student athletes generate revenue for the University (and why not be compensated?), and there’s always the more lofty ideal that academic success is the most important (the ends justify the means here.) But, is it fair?
My struggle to figure out my role in this process is difficult. I like the student athletes who I work with, but at times, the sea of collective assumptions about student athletes that I swim in is a little totalizing. Why can’t I (or any other student who isn’t an athlete) call a personal tutor to work on my homework with me several times a week? Why am I not allowed to interact with my students outside of the tutoring center?
The conclusion that I usually come to when I confront these issues is that it’s the structure that’s messed up. Often being a student athlete is like being a professional athlete. Why are there academic expectations? Strict NCAA rules make dealing with the reality of this like hopscotching through fire as some sports continue to develop to mirror their professional counterpart … it doesn’t work out. I don’t know what alternative, specifically, would suffice, but I think it involves being realistic about the role of the student athlete in terms of the University and in terms of their actual academic expectations.
(Photo under a Creative Commons license.)