“I was really surprised by the athlete’s behavior. The athlete was such a positive influence on the rest of the group” is a common phrase I hear in my role in student affairs. To be honest every time I hear this phrase I cringe a little bit, because after spending five years working in an athletic department I am never surprised by a student-athlete’s positive behavior, but why is everyone else on campus surprised?
Well as we know the general public tends to have ideas about a student-athlete’s typical behavior and personality. Here are some examples I have overheard:
1) They are a star they must have such an ego
2) Student-athletes are unintelligent
3) Student-athletes get everything handed to them, and are entitled
From what I have experienced student-athletes are just like other students, but are easily recognizable as a student-athlete on campus and in the community. When I worked in athletics there were approximately 500 student-athletes. Did some of them have a big ego? Yes. Did some of them struggle more in academics in others? Sure. Did some of them seem entitled? Absolutely. However, I did not find that the number of student-athletes with these traits were any higher than any other population we have on campus. When I reflect on my time in athletics I often remember the amazing student-athletes who were high motivated, caring, funny, and kind. I rarely remember an instance of negative interactions. I now work primarily with students who are studying abroad, and I have found a few of these students have the negative traits we often associate with student-athletes. The difference is non-student-athletes are able to make a first impression that isn’t clouded by being easily recognizable.
As we continue with the new semester and new year I encourage all student affairs professionals to think about their own biases on campus and in their personal lives. Maybe it isn’t connected to student-athletes, but we all have our own biases and opinions about groups of people that are different than us. In order to improve as student affairs professionals, we must confront those biases head on and continue to learn about others.
Some of my favorite ways to learn about other groups is through podcasts, reading novels from a different perspective, asking students about their experiences, and staying up to date on international news. I would love to hear your ideas as well as to how we can expand our understanding of others!