“Race…, Sport Type, and Divisional Classification Matters:” An Examination of Black Female Athletes’ Experiences at National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Institutions

Joseph N. Cooper – University of Massachusetts Boston
Jennifer McGarry – University of Connecticut
Shaun Dougherty – Vanderbilt University
Tiffany J. Davis – University of Houston

The purpose of the current study was to examine the nature and quality of Black female athletes’ college experiences across race, sport, and National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) divisional classifications. Female athletes constitute nearly half of all NCAA participants and yet their experiences are often only highlighted in comparison to male peers (NCAA, 2018) and more specifically the racialized experiences of female athletes are conspicuously under researched. Given that female athletes graduate at higher rates than their male counterparts, make decisions about their academic pursuits differently, and are generally more engaged in university life (Kulics, Kornspan, & Kretovics, 2015), it is critical for leaders to better understand how they experience college. In this study, we analyzed data from an NCAA Growth, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Learning of Students (GOALS) survey to explore the college experiences of Black female athletes compared to their female athlete counterparts. Comeaux and Harrison’s (2011) conceptual model for student-athlete academic success was incorporated to explore the relationships between Black female athletes’ interactions with institutional systems, levels of integration (academic and social), and educational outcomes. Key findings provided insight into the unique experiences of Black female athletes as a result of their race, gender, sport, and divisional classification. Implications from this study highlight the need to engage culturally responsive strategies for academic and social integration of Black female athletes across all divisional classifications.