It has only been one year as the athletic director, but Craig Poisson is no stranger to the Springfield College campus. Prior to starting as the Director of Athletics on July 1, Poisson was the senior associate director of athletics for seven years under the former athletic director, Dr. Cathie Schweitzer.
Poisson has been a part of Springfield College for the last 19 years including time as a professor of education. Poisson has always strived to give Springfield College student-athletes the best opportunities and the best experiences possible. Being the associate director of athletics, Poisson’s duties mainly focused on scheduling and conducting the event management for all 26 sports that are offered at Springfield.
Poisson also has a strong passion for, and commitment to increasing the diversity of the athletic program. In fact, as the following Q+A demonstrates, this passion and commitment has been a part of him ever since he was a child.
Question: Diversity has been a big topic on many college campuses this year, including our own. How important would you say diversity is within a college athletic program?
Answer: I absolutely agree that the topic of diversity has recently received much attention this past year on college campuses across the country. And, as you know, in at least one high profile situation, the athletic department and student athletes were intricately involved in the issue of diversity.
Diversity within an athletic program is equally important as diversity on a college campus. A diverse college campus is critically important for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, a diverse campus leads quite naturally to expanded thought, and critical and analytical thought processes are hallmarks of higher education. A diverse college campus allows the campus community to learn from others with different backgrounds and experiences – be it age, religion, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation….
To have the ability to interact with all the world has to offer without getting in a car or on a plane is one of the greatest possibilities of college campuses. And, we have been in what is known as a global economy for some time now; a diverse campus makes everyone richer. As an athletic program exists on many college campuses in this country, all the same applications would apply; a diverse athletic program yields the same benefits as a diverse campus – It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Question: I understand that you have been thinking about these issues for a long time—well before you were named Athletic Director. Can you tell us a little bit about your background on diversity and sports?
Answer: The sociological aspects of sport [have] been an interest of mine for quite some time. As a young child I had the unbelievable experience of “seeing” many parts of the world without ever leaving my living room. My mother traveled the globe playing field hockey for the United States team and she took thousands of slides of the geography, buildings, animals and people in each country the team played. We would have “slide show’ nights in which my Mom would share with my two brothers and I fascinating stories about the places and people in the slides – I’m talking about Australia, New Zealand, Germany, England, South Africa. As a second grader I knew more about the globe in the back of the classroom than anyone!
Additionally, my father served as an athletics director at the University of Bridgeport (Conn.) and from a very young age I would attend athletic events at UB. Bridgeport had a great international reputation at the time and I was “introduced” to young men and women from all over the world.
Later in my life, when I decided to pursue the terminal degree, I conducted a qualitative investigation of a mixed race middle school boys’ basketball team…. The environment in which I was raised, along with the pursuit of knowledge on the topic of diversity has helped shape who I am today.
Question: What is your basic read on how our athletic department is doing in terms of diversity and social justice? What are we doing well? Where do we need to improve?
Answer: There is always room for improvement when it comes to diversity within a college community, and athletics is a key part of this campus makeup. I think that Dr. Cooper having the vision to hire Calvin Hill as our Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement shows that we as a campus are being proactive when addressing this important issue. I have already started to lean on his expertise in helping us move in the right direction.
At first glance, our teams may not appear diverse from a black and white perspective, I believe around 11 percent of the student-athlete population identify themselves as “non-white”. With that said, we are not satisfied with where we are in regards to the race and ethnicity make up of our athletic department, and I look forward to working on this campus initiative as we become more involved with this institutional commitment. However, when factoring in religion, socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual orientation, I feel that our programs have made progress and will continue to do so.
Question: What role do our coaches and graduate assistants play in terms of building diversity?
Answer: The head coaches and the graduate assistant coaches are critically important in recruiting students to Springfield College. And I did not say student-athletes; many prospective student athletes that have been in contact with an athletic department representative – be it heavily recruited to a few emails or phone calls – end up enrolling and may not end up on a roster. Equally important, these students remain on campus. I think our colleagues in Admissions and across campus would agree that the coaches are an extension of the admission staff; so, yes, the recruiting efforts of the coaches can, and does, play a significant role in creating a diverse student population.
Question: It’s hard to make change when you have essentially just started in a new position. But what is your vision for how you would like to see the athletic department change in terms of diversity in the next five years or so?
Answer: Thanks for recognizing the challenges of being in a leadership position – be it the Director of Athletics or otherwise, in the first year. Exactly two months in my current position, on September 2nd, I informed the coaches that I was going to ‘look, listen and learn’ and from my interactions and observations a departmental strategic plan would be presented at the start of the 2016-2017 academic year. Efforts to increase diversity – in all its forms – will be a part of this strategic plan. In crafting selected portions of the strategic plan, I intend to work very closely with Dr. Hill, the yet to be hired Vice President for Enrollment Management, Mary DeAngelo, our Dean of Admissions, and Erica Hollot, our Recruiting and Retention Coordinator. Additionally, I intend to build on my relationship with Professor Dobrow, who artfully through his own medium, raised the level of awareness of diversity on campus during his role as the 2014-2015 Humanics Professor, in part, by sharing the wonderful story of Tom Waddell. In fact, right now Dr. Hill, Professor Dobrow, Scott Berg and myself are working on the follow up to the inaugural Waddell Diversity series to held on April 8, 2016.