Sporting chance for diversity

University’s racial makeup ‘an issue’ for minority players, athlete says

Men’s basketball head coach Rob Smart addresses his team in a Feb. 13 game against the RMC Paladins. Smart says he thinks Queen’s should do more to attract visible minority athletes.
Men’s basketball head coach Rob Smart addresses his team in a Feb. 13 game against the RMC Paladins. Smart says he thinks Queen’s should do more to attract visible minority athletes.

When volleyball rookie Michael Amoroso was choosing which school to attend, he said he knew Queen’s has a reputation among high-school athletes of colour as a predominantly white school.

“Queen’s, despite their best efforts, has become sort of a staple for private schools in Toronto and upper-class white areas. That’s where those kids want to go, it’s just the way it is,” he said.

Amoroso, who’s black, said the racial makeup of a university plays a large role in any visible minority student’s post-secondary decision.

“When I was deciding where to go to school that was one question that I asked every single coach that I spoke to, because with a sport like volleyball it’s generally white-dominated. Visibly I don’t fit in a lot of places, and as a minority athlete at a school like Queen’s it’s definitely an issue.

“The kind of questions I was asking were, ‘How would I fit in as a black student on campus? How many other black athletes are at Queen’s?’”

Amoroso said his experience of meeting the volleyball team in Grade 12 swayed his decision.

“When I was on my trip I was given the option to stay a second night—to see the guys on the volleyball team in a more relaxed setting. Hanging out and talking to them and getting to know them, that was what swayed it for me. They were people I liked and people I want to play with.”

He added that Queen’s should advertise in a larger variety of schools to attract a more diverse student body. He said Dante Alighieri Academy, his high school, didn’t have much of a Queen’s presence, whereas the school where his mother teaches, Lawrence Park Collegiate, had a much stronger one.

“Advertising the school and its best programs to a broader range of schools and a broader range of people will ultimately be the best strategy,” he said.

“But it’s not going to be an overnight solution.”

Men’s basketball assistant coach Duncan Cowan said his team could be missing out on some high-calibre players due to its largely white makeup.

“Certainly if we had more visible minorities it would help in terms of us in terms of attracting a more diverse group,” he said. “Perhaps it uncovers a few more stones; perhaps that opens up a few more talented prospects to us that maybe otherwise wouldn’t consider Queen’s.”

“We haven’t been able to attract those athletes. … It’s been difficult.”

Cowan said he and head coach Rob Smart won’t actively recruit players just because they’re visible minorities, but having a larger minority presence could help attract more players.

“That might change some aspects. There might be a greater comfort level or change in perception when kids are watching us,” he said.

“We’ve had several visible minorities visit for recruiting trips and obviously when they’re spending time with our team they’re the only visible minority in the gym.

“I would assume there’s a little bit of discomfort there.”

Smart said he thinks the University should do more to attract visible minority students.

“I want to know why we’re not increasing the number of minorities,” he said.

“It’s not an easy problem to solve but … what are we doing? What are we actually doing? Do we have any more minorities in general than we did two years ago? I don’t know and I don’t even know if we know.

“We’re supposed to have policies to deal with them.”

There’s one non-white player on the men’s basketball team, with one more arriving next year.

The football team, which has a much larger roster compared to the basketball team’s, has seven non-white players.

Smart said the trouble is convincing black basketball players to come to Queen’s in the first place.

“I have a gut feeling that right now, if I could find a kid that wanted to come and had close enough marks … but he’s still coming into basically a white community.”

Smart said there is much work to be done to make Queen’s a more attractive place for minority athletes.

“We’ve got a whole bunch of things working against us. The university’s basically white, and it’s a small city with a small minority community. If you’ve got everything going against you you’d better fight like hell with the few things you do have if you want to change it,” he said.”

Athletics and Recreation Chair Leslie Dal Cin couldn’t be reached for comment.

Assistant history professor Barrington Walker, the University’s Diversity Advisor, said he’s unaware of minority issues specific to athletics.

“I can’t speak to whether or not it’s an issue in athletics because I haven’t had a chance to speak to the folks at athletics about that. Maybe that’s something to speak about in the future.”

Walker said to his knowledge, the University doesn’t have a coherent policy on targeting athletes based on the basis of ethnic or racial origin.

“In general we need to think about how we foster a more diverse student body.”

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