Lauren Haynie is in her second year as the Brandeis University Director of Athletics after most recently serving as the Senior Associate Director of Athletics and PERA (Physical education, recreation, and athletics) at Wellesley College. Among the experiences in her nearly 20 years in collegiate athletics, Haynie served as special assistant to the athletic director at Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2013-17. She graduated with a degree in kinesiology from Penn State University, adding master’s degrees in education and business administration with an emphasis on sports management from Old Dominion University and Southern New Hampshire University, respectively.
The UAA “Conversations About Race and Racism” series seeks to lift the voices of people of color and recognize the challenges faced in both athletics and academics at the collegiate level. By sharing personal stories, we hope to elevate the conversation about race to raise awareness and bring about change.
Culture Change in College
Haynie grew up in a home where pursuing a college degree was both encouraged and expected. “I was extremely fortunate in my academic journey. Both my parents were first-generation college students and given their experiences, there was simply an expectation that I would attend college also,” she explained.
She attended private schools from elementary school through high school. “My parents valued education and were willing to make the sacrifices necessary for me to attend private, Catholic elementary school instead of under-resourced D.C. public schools,” she described. “What I did not understand at the time was that the racially diverse students and teachers that were such an important part of my elementary and high school experiences would simply not be a part of my higher education and work experiences.”
Things changed dramatically when she got to Penn State. “College was an enormous shock for me because it was really the first time I experienced being ‘the only one in the room.’ I was suddenly very conscious that I was expected to speak for all members of my race instead of simply from my own perspective,” she recollected. “There are times when that pressure can feel immense, and yet with that pressure comes an opportunity to educate and celebrate my experience as well.”
Microaggressions and Invalidation
“There are countless small misconceptions — microaggressions — that are incredibly challenging,” Haynie expressed. “Being followed around stores, pulled over by police, having strangers ask to touch my hair. Those are the things that slowly drain you of your joy.”
Having her experiences questioned is a too frequent occurrence. “More than anything, when people of color are questioned about whether their experience of discrimination is real, it is harmful. When asked, I often share with my colleagues and friends that having lived as a Black person for four decades, I know when I am treated differently because of my skin color. Simply believe me.”
Haynie at Super Bowl LIV in Miami
Challenges at Predominantly White Institutions
Throughout her career, Haynie has been one of the only women of color (if not the only one) in nearly every space she has entered. “One of the biggest challenges is simply representation, being one of very few in virtually every meeting or room I enter. In these instances, I need to speak about the universal experiences that all of our students share, as well as the unique challenges impacting our students of color,” she communicated. “I am careful to provide the caveat that I cannot speak for all Black people when I provide my perspective, and yet, because I am one of very few, I know that I need to take these opportunities to provide some insights.”
For any Black person, there are multiple issues to navigate in racial crisis. “When there are racially motivated incidents publicized in the country, it is challenging to manage my personal emotions while simultaneously continuing to do my job. There is also this very strange phenomenon in which many of my white colleagues seem afraid to address these incidents when they occur,” Haynie articulated. “For example, when the protests in Charlottesville (in August 2017) occurred, there was virtually no discussion of these events at work. It was as if the entire world was talking about what happened, but my colleagues seemed uncomfortable to discuss these concerns around me.”
Advice for People of Color Seeking to be Athletic Administrators
“As is true in many other professions, there are challenges to being athletic administrators, especially when not a lot of people with common life experiences are in the room. However, athletics has a history of trying to bring people together to pursue a common goal, regardless of their background. Use that to your advantage,” Haynie recommended. “While change has been slow, it is steady. As an administrator, you have the ability to play a large part in the change you want to see — providing opportunities and increasing representation for student-athletes, coaches, and staff of color. Do not be afraid to take the journey!”
Haynie at the dedication of the Cordish Tennis Center scoreboard
Role of Allies
Haynie believes there are two factors that allies need to consider:
1. “Do not be afraid to admit what you don’t know. We are all the experts of our own experiences so without a conscious attempt to educate yourself, it will be difficult for you to understand the perspectives of people of color. Read, ask questions, engage in dialogue, and become better educated about racial concerns.”
2. “People of color need you. We are often not the ones in positions of power, so if there is going to be systemic change allies need to play an integral role in that change.”