“Lift as you rise,” Andrea Miller said.
Miller, the assistant athletic director for compliance and the senior women’s administrator, serves many roles on campus, especially within the athletic department.
During Miller’s time as a student athlete in college, a year spent on Slippery Rock’s lacrosse team, she found her platform as a student athlete allowed her to positively impact the campus as a leader.
Which she strives to impart upon current student athletes at SRU.
“We don’t want to beat each other down, so we’re always there to support each other,” she added. “Females in athletics need to lift as we rise and be leaders, but we also need to be genuine friends to those other females on our teams.”
SRU is home to seven men’s and 10 women’s teams. With so many student athletes across all sports and genders, the athletic experience allows student athletes to create meaningful bonds across every sport.
This was exactly the case for Miller as she grew up with a prominent involvement in sports.
“I think it added structure to my life when I was growing up,” Miller said. “I actually had a lot of friends that I had just because of sports, at other schools. It wasn’t just the high school or the elementary school that I went to.”
Slippery Rock volleyball coach Laurie Lokash plays off this idea, adding that coaches need to serve as ambassadors of their games and provide as many opportunities for young girls and women to grow and learn to stand on their own.
“It’s not so much just women in athletics, most coaches are ambassadors of their games,” Lokash said. “Whether it’s kids coming to Slippery Rock or kids coming to your camp in the summer, sports does a lot for girls.”
When college athletics are brought up in conversation, rarely does a female athlete feature heavily in those discussions.
Using professional basketball as an example, in 2015, the Women’s National basketball Association averaged 202,000 viewers per game. In 2018, the average National Basketball Association broadcast on TNT averaged roughly 1.5 million viewers.
“Boys have that natural aggressive instinct and it’s okay to be rough and tumble,” Lokash said. “Girls sometimes are socialized in a very different manner. I think sometimes girls need to learn to stand on their own.”
As a milestone in women’s collegiate athletic history, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX into law in June 1972, prohibiting discrimination on basis of sex in any federally-funded educational program. Schools weren’t required to meet these requirements in athletics programs until 1978, but this specific law was short lived.
In the case of Grove City College v. Bell in 1984, the Supreme Court of the United States concluded that Title IX only applies to certain programs, excluding athletics from Title IX protection. This was reversed in the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987.
After three women’s varsity sports were cut in the mid-2000s, a group of female athletes at Slippery Rock sued the university under Title IX.
The university and the group of athletes settled, bringing with it reparations to begin to fix the years of neglect that the women’s sports had endured.
In the years since, field hockey has returned to its varsity status. Men’s sports like wrestling, tennis and golf were cut, which allowed greater equity between men’s and women’s athletics.
“I know some people probably have some bitter feelings about the Title IX thing that happened here, but that’s what was needed to get things on an even keel,” Lokash said. “It can’t be okay for one team to be getting x number of dollars a day to eat while maybe another team gets five dollars less. Whether that’s men’s or women’s, or vice versa, it doesn’t matter. An athlete is an athlete is an athlete, and they should be treated that way.”
While the status of women’s athletics at Slippery Rock is at an all-time high, that does not mean things are perfect. Lokash feels that there is always room to improve moving forward.
Football and men’s basketball continue to dominate the athletic department, and likely will continue to do so in the years to come, but the first step toward equity has already been initiated with the hiring of a senior women’s administrator. Which, is essentially the highest ranked woman in the athletic department.
With the addition of Miller as the SWA, the process has already begun, and she has embraced the opportunity of providing support and help to other women administrators and student athletes.
Providing women’s athletics more representation and opportunity will go a long way in continuing to improve the equity between men’s and women’s athletics. Having another seat at the table in SRU’s athletic department opens the door to future representation and mentorship.
“The other female sports and coaches have another ally on their side to speak on their behalf,” Miller said. “Not just that, but it also gives us an opportunity to help them rise and grow as they move on to different positions.”