Monday, September 15, 2014

What Does it Mean to Be a Division 3 Student-Athlete?

Last spring, the attempt by Northwestern’s football team to unionize and other events spurred many conversations and debates at Macalester about athletic privilege. Most of the conversations started from non-athlete students who feel that student-athletes on campus have many perks, including being allowed to skip class, have locker rooms and apparel, and just generally enjoy more privileges among staff and facilities. This was not the first time these conversations were generated and will certainly not be the last. However, in the back and forth debate among students about the life of a Macalester athlete, an important question is often ignored: What does it actually mean to be Division 3 student-athlete?
As the phrase “student-athlete” suggests, being an athlete at Macalester and most (if not all) Division 3 schools means developing as a student first and an athlete second. It means that we take all the same classes with the same expectations as other students on campus. It means that we worked hard in high school to get into college and continue to work hard to ensure success later in life.

Showing off our k-tape jobs from our trainer, Alison!

We do not receive scholarships, we do not get personal tutors, we do not get assigned different homework or tests, and we certainly do not  consider it a perk to skip class because, as any student-athlete knows, missing class simply means more work later on. This is different from how athletes in Division 1 and some Division 2 programs are treated, which is where the college athlete stereotypes originate.

So why be a Division 3 student-athlete? What is it all about? I cannot speak for other students, but for me being a student-athlete at Macalester means that I get to play my favorite sport—softball—while receiving a phenomenal education. It means that I get to spend a lot of time with people with similar interests just as student musicians, actors, government leaders, and others do.

Infielders on the temporary stadium turf softball field

The best part is that one community does not define me because along with being an athlete I also get to be a researcher and organization leader on campus, to plan school events and have internships. I get to be Anna the person first and Anna the softball player second.

For me, being a Division 3 student-athlete means that I’m given the opportunity to make lifelong friends, stay in shape, be a part of a community, and have fun playing competitive softball. It means that my teammates and I play softball because it is something we want to do and love to do, not because we have to do it. It means that I am willing to stay up later to finish homework, be sore 50 percent of the time and dedicate myself to a team. Satisfaction comes from team solidarity (three claps, ladies?!) and accomplishing things as a player and a team that we have worked so hard for. It comes from making great friends and having a support system as I prepare for life after college.  

These are the ultimate rewards and the privileges that I value as a D3 student-athlete. We pay for our apparel, we pay for our education, we work for our grades, we coordinate the use of the locker rooms, gym space, and weight room with the campus. These are not our privileges as they are for Division 1 athletes, and even if they were, they are not the ones I would appreciate most.

—Anna Munson ’15 (LaCrosse, Wis.)