In Response to One Athlete’s Odyssey

Christopher E Smith, Associate Professor

Dear anonymous athlete,

I felt many emotions after reading your anonymous submission to the Augsburg Echo which appeared in the 21 February 2020 issue.  I was glad that you took the time to write it and share your feelings and perspective. I felt confused that there have not been sufficient structures in place to prevent – or least reduce – the negative feelings you have experienced here.  I also felt somewhat ashamed that I have not done more in this process.

I serve as the Faculty Athletics Representative (or FAR, for short) for Augsburg University.  To be honest, I had no idea what the role was until I was offered it. It was not until I learned more about it that I found that every NCAA institution has to have a faculty member who is designated to look after the interests of student-athletes, coaches, faculty and the institution on the whole.  It is a position with a fair amount of independence and autonomy, although I report to and serve at the pleasure of the President of the University, as well as working closely with the Athletics Office, the MIAC Conference and the NCAA. In short, it is a real position.

My mistaken impression was that a FAR works best much like any referee or official:  They work best when you do not notice them. It was never my intention to use this position as a power-grab, to parlay it into something greater, so I was content to lay low at first.  I spent the first year or so waiting for problems to come to me. In the last year, I have worked with other FARs at other institutions across the nation as well as with the NCAA to better understand my position and I recognize my mistake:  I need to be more proactive, to be more involved and to be more visible.  

It is not easy to address my mistake in such a public forum, but I’m willing to do it as a springboard for this:  I invite you to come talk with me about your experience.  My email is smithc2@augsburg.edu and my office is Hagfors 183.  In this same public forum, I give you my solemn word to protect you, your identity and your narrative as best as I can.  My goal is not to necessarily advocate for any side, but to try to resolve this issue in a way that all parties can feel whole, or at least as close to that as possible.  If you want to involve others who work towards diversity on this campus, I can involve them as well. If you want to only email, text or talk over the phone and retain your anonymity as much as possible, I can do that also, although that might limit what I and we can accomplish.  Most importantly, I want you to know that there is someone, who also happens to be a person-of-color faculty, who is willing to listen and help as they can.

Your letter shows a lot of hurt on your side, and I want to help heal that; it has also done some harm to the institution and potentially some parts of the athletics department which were unintentionally included in your letter and I want to help heal that also.  It is my job to offer this, but more than that, I want to see this resolved if possible.

You called your journey an “Odyssey”.  I read the Odyssey when I studied Latin as a youth.  Odysseus was tested many times on his wandering journey.  I’m not sure if you intended to evoke the testing, the wandering or both.  But I also want you to remember what Odysseus was travelling towards and that was a home not as he left it.  How are you leaving home for others who might travel a similar path? How can we help make that journey easier and more meaningful for others?