CAMILLE LEMKE; Sports Writer; firstname.lastname@example.org
Gender equity in collegiate athletics programs is assessed and published yearly online by the Office of Postsecondary Education within the U.S. Department of Education by gathering information from all colleges across the nation. Pacific Lutheran University meets impressive marks, including a 54% male to 46% female participation ratio, the third best among Northwest Conference schools.
However, good is not good enough for Athletic Director Laurie Turner and Associate Director of Athletics Jennifer Thomas.
“I don’t know if our data is something I would be proud of, because I think we can do better,” said Thomas. “However, we have come a long way, and we do as good of a job as we can with the resources we have. There’s always room for improvement.”
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 enforces gender equity in all schools, which is why PLU and every other university across the nation has to submit their data regarding gender equity.
Title IX is a federal law that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
This law has been essential to the development of women’s sports programs and providing equitable experiences for male and female student-athletes.
“Title IX impacts every decision the athletic department makes,” said Turner. “We try to achieve equity in regards to athlete experience — how teams practice, how they travel and what equipment the school can provide for them.”
PLU athletics consists of 19 varsity sports, 10 of which are women’s teams and nine men’s. Even though there is one more women’s team, there are still fewer female participants. The Equity in Athletics Data Analysis produced by the Department of Education shows that there are 255 male athletes compared to 216 female athletes at PLU. This is the number that the athletic department is continually working to improve, to make equal.
One of the ways they are attempting to improve is by adding another female varsity sport to help counteract the large male participation numbers posted by football.
“For other institutions that offer football, a lot of them either have or are starting women’s varsity lacrosse teams, and we’re not there yet,” said Thomas. “Having women’s lacrosse would help from a numbers standpoint.”
For now, the athletic department has its focus on improving current programs and facilities before it considers adding a women’s lacrosse team.
“Our biggest hurdle right now is our facilities,” said Turner. “They are outdated and unattractive. With our goal being recruiting and retaining students and student-athletes, our facilities need to be our top priority.”
Turner further pointed out that several of PLU’s women’s programs have improved and become more competitive by improving equipment and coaching staff. For example, the synthetic turf field has led to higher standards of training for the women’s soccer team and the rowing team has been extremely successful with the addition of a full-time head coach. Both teams won conference last year and competed at Nationals for their sports.
“We have all of the foundational aspects to create an environment that’s fun to be a part of,” said Turner. “Even if we don’t have all of the bells and whistles.”
The department is continuing to build on this foundation to achieve their goals of more gender equitable sports programs. ◼︎