In its first Women in Athletics panel, the Women’s Leadership Initiative invited five female administrators and student-athletes to discuss the status of women in sports, both at Yale and beyond.
The Thursday evening panel showcased Yale Associate Athletic Director Jessica Chrabaszcz, volleyball head coach Erin Appleman and assistant coach for cross country and track and field Camrynn Fausey as well as fencer Katherine Miller ’17 and squash player Jenny Scherl ’17.
Fielding questions about the women’s careers in and philosophies about athletics, the WLI discussed under-represented and under-celebrated females in sports, both at Yale and beyond. The panelists encouraged audience members — most of whom were female student-athletes — to strive to keep a balance in their day-to-day lives, to stay healthy and to adhere to their support systems at Yale.
“The general message for me is that we’re all going through the same issues and we have a beautiful support system,” said Alexandra Maund ’19, WLI member and mediator of the panel. “It’s innate for us women to stick together in a male-dominated community.”
Maund began the discussion by asking members about the balance between women’s and men’s athletic teams.
Miller — a member of Brazil’s Olympic epee team in Rio this summer — said that because the men’s and women’s fencing teams share a head coach, it sometimes feels that the women’s team does not get priority during competitions.
Scherl, a two-time unanimous All-Ivy honoree, added that the squash coaches, who also coach both the men and women, often base their resources on the team that has a better chance at a national championship. Last year, the men’s team won its first national championship since 1990, while the women finished fifth in the nation.
In response, Chrabaszcz noted that from an administrative standpoint, Yale Athletics tries to balance resources between men’s and women’s teams.
“Our focus is trying to make the student-athlete experience completely fair for both men and women,” Chrabaszcz said. “[We] look at scheduling, how dominant you are in your region [and] spread out administration to help each team.”
The panel also touched on how body image is an ongoing issue for women athletes.
Appleman said as a coach, she tries to encourage her players to stay healthy and take care of themselves individually, as each player in volleyball has a different body type. She said staying healthy includes making the right choices in the dining halls and in the weight room so that each player can be their strongest. Appleman recalled that one of her most talented players — a Rookie of the Year and three-time Ivy League Player of the Year — could have been a prime candidate for an eating disorder had she focused on weight instead of strength.
Fausey added a runner’s perspective, noting she was often subjected to an unhealthy culture that focused on body image and therefore struggled with weight until college. Here at Yale, she focuses on making sure her runners know that it is essential to prioritize strength and being healthy.
“Now running alongside undergraduate girls, I tell them to be healthy, to focus on their performance,” Fausey said. “In the Iron Man world, you need legs and shoulders and thighs.”
Scherl agreed and added that in the squash community, a great deal of emphasis is placed on appearance. With players wearing makeup, tight tops and short skirts, Scherl said many players on the team have struggled with weight and that it can be tough to have a male coach who might not understand the issues women face.
Fausey and Appleman both mentioned some of the unique challenges women in sports face post-graduation.
Fausey — who has competed in Iron Man triathlons and was ranked No. 1 in the world in the 18–24 female Iron Man amateur age division — said that while being a female triathlete offered her advantages with sponsorship, the one disadvantage she faced — and continues to face — is balancing family planning. She said that having a baby as an athlete does a lot to your body and makes it essential to think about how having a family might impact future performance.
Appleman agreed, recalling that during her time as Penn State’s assistant women’s volleyball coach, she had some difficulties balancing the rigor of weekly recruiting trips with having a family since she could not dictate her own schedule. She said that now, as head coach, it’s much easier to prioritize both her athletes’ and family’s needs because she can control her practice and recruiting schedules. Appleman added that being a female coach most likely helped her get hired at Yale because having experience as a woman coaching other women played to her strengths in the hiring process.
The panelists ended their discussion by defining how success is defined for women in athletics at Yale and beyond. While Appleman said her team has been lucky enough to be characterized by its wins and quantifiable success, teams are also defined by their community reach, funding and alumni association networks.
According to Miller and Scherl, individual sports that become team sports in college — like fencing and squash — define through both the player’s relationships to her team and the team’s overall success. On the fencing team, for example, Miller said success requires learning new skills, having a better attitude each day and having a team she can count on.
Scherl added that her experience on squash has taught her that even if she wins a match but the team loses overall, she feels just as sad as if she had lost. She said her team also defines success outside of athletics, adding that when juniors get summer internships, the whole team celebrates.
As an administrator, Chrabaszcz said she defines success through the relationships she has with all of her student-athletes and through the relationships they develop on their team. Girls on the softball team, for example, stop by her office almost every day.
“I try to let my students know that my office can be a safe space, that I am a person who doesn’t care what their sexual orientation is, what their test grade was, what their free throw percentage is, or how much parents make,” Chrabaszcz said. “I’m here help to guide them through college.”
There are 18 women’s varsity sports at Yale.