Eight white females served as tour guides for prospective football players on Saturday January 10th, 2015. Most of the women were asked to serve as tour guides by current football players.
For at least the past 12 years the coaching staff has requested their players to ask their female friends to serve as tour guides.
Head Football Coach Jamie Zorbo remembers the recruitment program to be run this way since he joined the coaching staff 12 years ago.
“I’ve been a coach here for 12 years at Kalamazoo, in some capacity, and I can remember it being done in this manner for at least that long,” said Zorbo.
Often these females are on a varsity athletic team, but not always.
“I ask a group of my current players to ask friends of theirs, and again we prefer female athletes but it hasn’t been exclusive to that,” said Zorbo.
These women have not gone through tour guide training, however, they are given a list of buildings as a guideline. The tour typically takes 45 minutes.
“We do organize the tour and tell them where to go,” said Zorbo. “We all start from the same place and want them to end at the same place.”
Kaitlyn Perkins ’17 was asked to participate in tour on January 10, a Saturday. She recalled being introduced by Coach Van Nickert.
“He said the reason we (coaching staff) brought these girls here is ‘because they’re a lot better looking than we are’,” said Perkins.
Perkins did not feel qualified to lead the tour.
“I just felt this was silly and that I was unqualified to do it and was like why was I here?” said Perkins. “I also felt uncomfortable telling people about the school when I knew about the tour an hour before. But I did agree to it.”
The coaching staff prefers the tours to be guided by female athletes to provide an additional perspective of campus.
“We prefer the female athletes for several reasons. First we feel they are able to relate to our prospective recruits because they too went through a similar recruiting process, they understand what that’s like. I also feel that they might view the Kalamazoo College experience through a slightly different lens than a male student or a male student athlete on this campus, I feel like that’s important. The whole goal here is to provide a very comprehensive picture of the Kalamazoo College experience. I think that perspective really enriches the program and I think it’s an important piece and element to the program,” said Zorbo.
Dean Sarah Westfall, Dean of Students, hopes that the prospective football players receive accurate information and are able to perceive the opportunities and people the campus has to offer. This is an experience she would like for all prospective students to have.
“I think our prospective students are best served when they get really good accurate information, they understand the whole broad range of opportunities and people that are here, and they get to interact with people who are maybe similarly situated as them,” said Westfall.
Title IX Coordinator, Stacy Nowicki said that although having strictly female tour guides may not have been intentional, if it was perceived as an intentional act, it was unjust.
“If female athletes were chosen to give tours to prospective students based on the fact that they were student athletes but it was perceived as pretty girls or attractive women to lure people to campus, then that’s a problem. Even if that was done innocently and with no thought to whether it was gender equitable or not. Even if it was perceived that it was not equitable then we still have to right that,” said Nowicki.
All faculty and staff members, including the athletics coaches were required to complete a half hour title IX training video, according to Nowicki.
“93.6% of faculty and staff completed the online training video. That was as of the beginning of December,” said Nowicki.
According to Zorbo, the entire football coaching staff completed the training.
Dean Westfall thinks that this event will allow the football program and campus an opportunity to self-audit their actions.
“I think the title IX issues that this raises are related to the opportunities we have to really look at what we do and how we do it,” said Westfall. “So, a lot of what many of us do is really kind of tacit. So I think the opportunity here is how can we kind of self-audit.”
Nowicki agrees with Westfall that this event will provide an opportunity to reflect and correct football-recruiting traditions.
“This may not have been a deliberate gender inequity issue,” said Nowicki. “This may have just been something dumb and turned out to be a gender inequity issue that is correctable.”
Rebecca Guralnick Co Leader of POWER, Progressive Organization of Women Engaged in Revolution, provided her insight on how the recruiting practices portray the campus.
“Even though people think that’s a little thing, it’s not, because it perpetuates the idea that girls are objects. It adds to the larger part of sexism that plays into our school and plays into our society,” said Guralnick.
When asked about the racial diversity and ethnicities of the women giving the tours on Saturday, January 10 Zorbo said, “I believe they were all white, yes.”
In the past Zorbo recalls that there has been racial diversity in the women that have led the tours. He is unable to provide statistics.
“We’re not turning anybody away based on race,” said Zorbo. “We have had racial diversity in the past, to give you specific numbers I can’t speak to that.”
Perkins did not believe the tour guides that led the prospective students on January 10 properly represented the female athletic teams.
“Even the sports teams are diverse,” said Perkins. “They have people of different ethnicities on their teams but all the ones (women) that were chosen were white.”
In response to how the tour guides of Saturday, January 10 tours, represented the diversity of campus Zorbo said, “Obviously our campus is more diverse than that, so if you’re talking about this Saturday, probably not.”
PaKou Her, Lead Organizer and Trainer for Crossroads Antiracism Organizing & Training provided her insight on the issues that this event brought to light.
“I think that’s less about the football team itself than it is the cultural values of the institution. And so I would say I think that’s incredibly, incredibly problematic around challenges of race. I think it’s up to folks here to decide, but I think there are clearly challenges around the intersecting issues of racism and sexism,” said Her.
PaKou Her provided her advice on how the women of the campus can use this event as an opportunity to discuss the intersecting issues of race, gender and sexism on campus.
“There needs to be some conversation, some open conversations between students. I think it would be really fantastic to have conversations led by white women challenging this in particular and challenging what it is to be labeled and used as pretty girls. I think that there’s an opportunity that could be very exciting it’s the opportunity between women of color and white women talking about the intersections between race and gender and sexism, and how that could be organized on campus,” said Her.
Zorbo said this is the first complaint he has ever heard regarding the tours.
“This is the first time we have received any negative perspective or comment regarding the tours,” said Zorbo.
Zorbo sincerely apologized if anyone on campus has felt offended by the football team recruiting practices.
“I just want to reiterate that if we’ve offended someone I sincerely apologize for that,” said Zorbo. “Absolutely let me make it clear that since we’ve been aware of our offending a student on campus through a visit certainly that’s not our intent through this visitation program and I understand how someone could be offended by looking at this and it certainly forced us to look at things through a slightly different lens.”
On Saturday, January 17 admission trained tour guides led the tours for the prospective football students.
“This Saturday we have organized tour guides through the admission office,” said Zorbo.