ORONO – University of Maine softball senior and first baseman Kristen Niland has enjoyed her student-athlete at the school thoroughly.
“I never felt that I was at a disadvantage. I always grew up in an environment that I was taken just as seriously as anyone else,” she said.
The business management major has played softball her entire life, playing on travel teams all throughout New England and beyond. She viewed herself on a level playing field with her peers, but over the course of the last year, began to realize some differences between the experiences of her softball squad at Maine and those of some of her male counterparts, at the university and elsewhere.
“One of the most valuable lessons that being a student-athlete at the University of Maine has taught me is how to hold myself and others accountable,” Niland said in an essay she wrote for a human resources class. “I have learned that holding someone accountable is one of the greatest forms of love.When we expect more from ourselves and each other we show that we see potential and greatness waiting to surface. We use accountability as a way to tell others that we refuse to allow them to settle for anything less than they are capable of because we see their true value. Today I am writing to hold my university accountable.”
Niland’s essay focused on research she gathered regarding Title IX, the 1972 Supreme Court ruling meant to bring gender balance to any educational program funded by the government. She noted how she grew up immersed in softball, but her views on her own personal ceiling changed once she entered college.
“However, I quickly began to notice a discrepancy between myself and my friends who were male athletes. I would regularly hear my male counterparts talk about their hopes and dreams of becoming professional athletes,” she would say in the essay.
“I could have all the talent in the world, be the most skillful player, and have the strongest work ethic of anyone in my sport but because I am a female I will never be able to have the dream of making a living playing my sport come true.”
In the piece, Niland notes differences exist between male athletes and female athletes at the university, in particular, regarding facilities.
“When I look at the facilities available to my male counterparts I see facilities that are far and above superior to the facilities offered to me and my teammates,” the paper reads. “When I look at the baseball complex I see a $454,000 batting facility, a turf field with lights, stadium seating, and a large clubhouse with a private training room. When I look at my softball team’s facility I see a grass field coated in rocks and pebbles, minimal seating with bleachers that bare holes throughout, and old netted batting cages with cement floors that are covered with ragged mats.”
Niland’s main point of reference is the Paul J. Mitchell Batting Pavilion, a building donated in 2012 attached directly to the baseball team’s locker room. The indoor facility is accessible year-round for baseball players, and should schedule permit, is available for softball players. Though intended for both, logistically, it does not serve both teams evenly.
“Donors make donations, have a certain affinity to certain programs. That’s when things can become out of line, when the university of the institution can’t match that,” Maine director of athletics Karlton Creech said. “That’s what we’ve got to do going forward, we’re aware of what’s going on and that we make decisions based on Title IX equity.”
Creech, who has spent much of his time as an administrator at UMaine improving upon Title IX conditions, acknowledged the school has shortcomings it is trying to fix. While it is compliant with the the gender ratio component of the Title IX three-prong test meant to hold schools accountable, he acknowledged there is still work to be done with the school’s facilities.
“Where we recognize we have challenges in what we call the 11 other benefits areas that are things like travel, recruiting, coaching staffs, facilities, locker rooms, all those those things, that’s where the work needs to be done,” he said. He also mentioned how softball’s grass facility is not the only area of focus for the school, noting soccer, while on turf, still plays in center field of the baseball team’s stadium.
“I understood the money aspect of things and maybe the money’s just not there. Okay. That’s fine,” Niland said. “But you do have a right to work to be successful and have a facility that’s similar and stuff like that.”
Believing in her and her teammates’ rights to be successful, she opted to bring her class essay directly to UMaine administration. And the response she received may be atypical for a situation like this.
For more on “Equality and Equity For All,” stay tuned for Part II of the series Tues., Nov. 21, 2017.