By Collin Atwood
On Thursday, Nov. 12, the Springfield College Student-Athlete Leadership Team (SALT) hosted the Women’s Empowerment panel. The moderator for this event was Katelee McCormic, a junior at Springfield College who is a member of the women’s swimming and diving team.
The topic of this event was Women In Sport which featured six highly respectable panelists who all work in some form of athletics. Around eighty people gathered in this Zoom meeting to hear about what it is like to be a woman in their respective fields.
The first question that McCormic asked the panelists was, “When did you have a time where you had to stand alone and how did you get through it?”
“I feel like in athletics and coaching it’s a male domain so, I feel like there’s often time standing alone is part of our job,” answered coach Naomi Graves.
Graves is the women’s basketball coach and Assistant Professor of Physical Education at Springfield College. Graves earned her Masters in Education from Springfield College in 1985.
Graves talks about her childhood days and how she was not able to participate in sports until Title IX was passed in 1972. This civil rights law made it illegal for any education program or activity to discriminate, reject or exclude someone based on their sex.
Michelle Moosbrugger, Associate Professor of Physical Education and Co-chair of The Department of Physical Education and Health Education, is a former head swim coach at Wells College and was also the Swim Coach of The Year in her conference in 2002.
In her first season, Moosbrugger brought her swim team to the conference championships. As she was there, soaking it all in, something surprised her. “I’m looking around the pool deck and it hits me. I’m the only female coach in a women’s college’s conference.”
After being alone as the only female coach in her conference, Moosbrugger informed herself on Title IX and went to her athletic director and asked if she could hire an assistant coach.
“She found it in the budget and I hired a female assistant coach,” Moosbrugger said.
No longer did she have to stand alone.
Her assistant coach would accompany her as the other female coach in the conference.
Another question that was asked by McCormic was, “What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?”
Amanda Kulas, the assistant track and field coach at Springfield College, emphasized the importance of a mentor.
“Get somebody who’s not directly affiliated with your program to bounce ideas off of,” Kulas said.
Kulas began coaching at a small Division III college called Elms College. She was there for the start of their track and field program as an assistant coach.
After she saw a coach on one of the other teams at their first meet with high energy, Kulas turned to the head coach and said, “that’s where I want to be and that’s where I see myself.” Kulas then reached out to her and they now have a great mentor to mentee relationship.
Laura Dubowski, Assistant Professor of Communications at Springfield College also answered this question.
“I would tell my young self to step up, don’t stand back, don’t wait…you’re just as smart as everybody else.”
Dubowski came to Springfield College with 35 years of experience under her belt. She spent time in local news in Boston and with network news in New York and London. She has covered three olympics, won the Associated Press award and is a three time Emmy-award nominee.
Dubowski believes it is important for young journalists who are trying to fight their way into a job to know their worth and to always be confident.
“Don’t let anybody step over you,” Dubowski said.
The next part of the event was for everyone to split up into breakout rooms where each panelist would talk about their respective topics.
Diversity in Athletics was the name for one of the breakout rooms and was hosted by Amanda Kulas and Adaeze Alaeze-Dinma.
Alaeze-Dinma is the Coordinator of Student-Athlete Leadership Development and Sports Communications Assistant at Springfield College.
After she was an Excellence Academy, Leadership and Life Skills intern at Indiana University she made her way to Alden Street. Alaeze-Dinma also had her success on the basketball court.
She spent four years playing at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and played professionally in Vigo, Spain, and in Tenerife de Santa Cruz. This is just a short list of her many accomplishments.
In this breakout session, Alaeze-Dinma and Kulas talked about their difficulties working in athletics.
Alaeze-Dinma talked about the struggle that being an African American woman brought to her during her journey in athletics. “Being a black woman in athletics is something that you don’t see too often.”
She continued to talk about how she doesn’t feel like she can express herself as freely as she would like to due to racial stereotypes. “I don’t ever want to be categorized as the angry black woman,” Alaeze-Dilma said.
The fact that she has to worry about people labeling her with stereotypes makes it harder for to be herself freely. She has to think about her actions more carefully than others because of the stereotypes. “The biggest thing that I have ever had to deal with is my emotions.”
Kulas talked about what it is like to be an openly gay female in athletics. Kulas ran Division I track and field before she was a coach.
“I came out my senior year of high school…when I got to college I got called the team gay,” Kulas said.
She was very upfront about who she was in college. This attracted some attention her way. Kulas would receive comments like, “you were so pretty when you had long hair” and “you should dress more feminine.”
Kulas felt unsafe until she reached her first coaching job at Elms College where most of the coaching staff there was gay. “It was very weird for me, being in a room of supportive people because I have always been the only one.”
After the breakout rooms concluded, McCormic left the panelists with one final question: “If you could say one thing to males on how they could contribute to women empowerment, what would you share with them?”
In response, Jess Lane, who recently graduated from Springfield College in 2020, said “be on my side.”
Lane majored in Athletic Training and was recently licensed in Massachusetts and Connecticut. She currently works for a physical therapy clinic in Springfield.
Lane continues to answer the question by saying that coaches constantly think that she doesn’t know the rules of games like football and hockey because she is a female. If she had had a male with her in those situations to back her up then maybe they wouldn’t continue to judge her based off of her sex.
“Being supportive and having our backs is the number one thing,” Lane said.
Alaeze-dinma explains how she has had a lot of mentors who were men help her along the way. “Just continue to keep mentoring young women,” Alaeze-Dinma said.
Graves has also had more men as her mentors along the way. “Most men want to stand in front of us…I want the men to stand beside me, not in front of me,” Graves said.
The strong and respected women on this panel showed how hard it was for them to make it into their fields, but they also showed that it is possible. It shouldn’t have to be as hard for women as it is.
These women helped bring awareness to the fact that women deserve the same rights as everyone else and that no one’s gender should define how well he or she can accomplish a task.
“I hope that you were all able to learn some really cool things and just have a good conversation about learning different things,” McCormic said.
Photo: Springfield College