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Track is back at Brown after outcry about lost opportunities

June 10, 2020 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Brown University has reinstated its men’s varsity track and cross country programs, with the school president saying dropping the teams to club status would have had a negative effect on efforts to build and maintain diversity on campus, particularly for African Americans.

The reversal came two weeks after the school announced it would reduce its number of varsity sports from 38 to 29 in a move designed to make the Bears more competitive in the Ivy League.

Brown president Christina H. Paxson wrote in a letter to the campus community Tuesday she had received strong feedback against the original decision.

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“Our students, alumni and parents took the time to share their deeply personal stories of the transformative impact that participation in track, field and cross country has had on their lives,” she wrote. “Many noted that, through Brown’s history, these sports have been a point of entry to higher education for academically talented students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity, many of them students of color.”

Jordan Mann, a volunteer assistant coach who helped lead the effort to bring the programs back to varsity status, said there were 12 African Americans among approximately 50 athletes on the indoor and outdoor track and cross country teams in 2019-20.

African Americans made up 10.8 percent of undergraduate students at Brown in the fall of 2018, the most recent year data was available on the university’s website.

Mann, who competed in the steeplechase for Brown from 2011-15 and is African American, and former women’s thrower Brynn Smith, who is white, led the pushback against the original decision. A website, savebrowntrack.org, was created and included the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on the home page, and a change.org petition had nearly 50,000 signatures Wednesday.

“Taking away those opportunities, especially today, is really just unconscionable,” Mann said. “We’re really glad to hear the university made the right decision, but we also want to see them do more to further diversity and inclusion within the athletic department.”

Reinstatement of the men’s varsity track and cross country teams takes effect immediately, and Paxson said it will require Brown to condense rosters of other teams to remain in compliance with gender equity regulations. Brown now will have 32 varsity sports.

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The plan to restructure its athletic department came after an external review in 2018-19 found the high number of varsity sports was a barrier to competitiveness. In the preceding 10 years, Brown had won only 2.8% of all Ivy League championships, last in the league.

Restoring varsity track and cross country comes as the national conversation about race has grown louder.

“We’re not saying you should care more about a track team coming back than you should care about criminal justice reform and justice for the black people who have been subject to policy brutality,” Mann said. “What we are saying is it’s within the ethical responsibility for the university to continue to provide these opportunities for black people, especially African American descendants of slaves and for other people of lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Taking away track was counter to that.”