Dean Rhemi Abrams-Fuller juggles quite a few hats in her work at Carleton. She takes on dual roles as an Associate Dean of Admissions, as well as the Director of Diversity Outreach and Action—not to mention she’s an assistant coach of the softball team.
“My main job is in admissions,” said Abrams-Fuller. “I’m really here to work with students who have been historically underrepresented at college campuses, particularly predominantly-white college campuses like Carleton.”
Her most recent project represents a confluence of these responsibilities, as she looks to help diversify Carleton’s athletic recruiting efforts. This effort stems from her own time at Carleton, as she was once a student-athlete on the softball team she now coaches: “The big thing I was hoping to do was talk to coaches about my experience as someone who was a BIPOC athlete and a woman on campus.”
Said Abrams-Fuller, “I wanted to talk about what I’m seeing now, as someone who works primarily with underrepresented students on campus, and trying to offer a perspective that a lot of our coaches may not have.”
“It’s not a secret that most of our head coaches at least are white, and they’re wonderful,” said Abrams-Fuller. “They’re amazing people, but there’s not a ton of racial and ethnic diversity in the PEAR head coaching staff, and they’re aware of this and so are the athletes.”
Abrams-Fuller was in no way understating the lack of diversity among Carleton head coaches—of the 18 varsity sports offered at Carleton, all but one are led by white head coaches.
“I think the way that we see the world is shaped by the experiences we have and both the privilege that comes from personal presentation and our own experiences. So I wanted to offer a perspective that most of our coaches don’t have because they’re white male or female identifying humans.”
To offer that perspective, Dean Abrams-Fuller gave a presentation to all of Carleton’s head coaches with the title “Diversifying the Athletic Recruitment Process: why we should and how we could.” The presentation was built around a survey which all student-athletes received in their email inboxes during mid-April. The survey aimed to “gather perspectives about the acceptance and support students have experienced as varsity athletes, as well as their views on racial/ethnic diversity within varsity athletics at Carleton.” 45 percent of total student-athletes responded to the survey, with about 20 percent of respondents being BIPOC themselves.
“The majority of students said they wish we had more diversity within our student athlete population and within our coaching population, but there was nothing surprising about that,” said Abrams-Fuller about the survey responses. “There was also a lot of positive information. When we asked our student-athletes if they feel supported by their teammates and coaching staff, everyone said, yes, that they either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree.”’
“When we asked if student-athletes felt they had experienced discriminatinon, nobody said yes. So that stuff is exciting. We have work to do, but there are all these reminders throughout the survey data that our PEAR department is pretty exceptional.”
Dean Abrams-Fuller used the responses from the survey along with her personal experiences to tailor a presentation aimed at helping coaches diversify their recruiting efforts. The presentation focused on how diversifying the spaces in which Carleton recruits can lead directly to a more diverse recruiting class.
“I tried to talk a little bit about how we might logistically diversify our recruiting pool a little bit… If we recruit in the same types of spaces, we’re going to see the same types of students. If you go to the same sort of watering hole you’ll see the same folks there.”
A primary focus for Dean Abrams-Fuller is moving beyond high academic recruiting camps/showcases and for-profit recruiting services. She specifically talked about moving beyond expensive recruiting camps which bring prospective college student-athletes from across the country together to showcase their skills in front of college coaches.
“These camps are great in some ways, but they cost a lot of money,” noted Fuller. “I’ve seen some that cost four figures. So on top of all these expensive club teams kids are playing on they’re doing all these showcase circuits that are costing thousands of dollars in fees, not to mention travel, food, hotels, plane tickets, all of it… And again, we know there’s a correlation in this country between wealth and whiteness, so when we ask ourselves who’s going to be showing up at these camps and showcases, certainly there will be some BIPOC kids there, but there are going to be a ton of white kids there.”
Abrams-Fuller wants to push coaches to target different cities, states and high schools with different demographics and to “meet students physically where they’re at and where they’re comfortable.”
Her presentation also included sections on how coaches, especially the overwhelming majority of white coaches, can better connect with BIPOC recruits. Abrams-Fuller encouraged coaches to highlight Carleton’s holistic admissions process, to mention Carleton’s recent progress in improving diversity on campus, and to acknowledge Carleton’s imperfections, as well as the potential feelings and concerns of BIPOC recruits.
Carleton has made large strides in these areas. As President Poskanzer noted in his exit interview: in 2010, Carleton was made up of only 27% historically underrepresented or international students and as of 2021 that number is now 42%. Yet Carleton remains a predominantly-white institution located in a county that is almost 90% white.
“I’ve never lived my life as a white human, but I’d imagine it’s easier to not always think about certain things when you’re white; whereas for some of us that is not an option, it is on the brain day and night. We have to be cognizant of that when we go out and try to convince students that Carleton is a wonderful place—it is—but the experience is different for some of us.”