By Val Henderson
The Stanford Athletic department was recently put under scrutiny when The Stanford Daily produced an article discussing “The list,” a catalog of supposedly easy classes that the Athletic Academic Resource Center made available to student-athletes for years. According to the article: “Stanford officials said the list was designed to accommodate athletes’ demanding schedules and disputed that the list was made up of easy courses,” however the article insinuates otherwise. Most notably, the article quotes Professor Donald Barr as having said: “(Stanford) accommodates athletes in the manner that they accommodate students with disabilities.”
Since the article’s publication, there have been countless responses as to the purpose and meaning of this list, entitled “Courses of Interest.” The validity of the information used in the article has been challenged, including Professor Barr’s claim that he was “egregiously misquoted,” but the integrity of the student-athlete experience has been put under critical review all the same.
In order to get some truths behind ‘the list’ as well as an honest view of the student-athlete experience at Stanford, I interviewed Marisa Abegg and Ali Riley, two former Stanford soccer players. These two women are prime examples of world-class athletes who had amazing collegiate soccer careers while keeping their academics a priority.
Marisa Abegg, who graduated in 2009 with a degree in human biology, represented the Cardinal and competed with U.S. youth national teams throughout college. She played in the WPS for two years (with the FC Gold Pride and Washington Freedom) before retiring to pursue a career outside of soccer. While soccer was a huge part of her life, it was never her only focus.
“My first priority in college was school. Then came soccer,” she said. “At times (such as during season and the NCAA tournament), the two were almost equal in terms of the time and effort I put in, but in the off-season it was particularly important to me that I focused on my academics and experiencing all Stanford had to offer outside of athletics. There are opportunities to continue in sports, but they’re few and far-between, and having a solid education behind you will help you succeed during and after your sporting days.”
In reference to “the list,” Abegg said it consisted of “courses (suggested by athletic advisors and fellow athletes) that were particularly interesting.” Abegg recalls recommending, “a really intriguing class” to her advisor who then put it on the list for the
following quarter. “It was understood that the professors of the classes were helpful and accommodating to athletes’ schedules, but I found that with most classes at Stanford.
“The ‘list’ was a good way to try to experience the variety of courses and activities at Stanford. Not all of the courses were necessarily needed towards a degree, but a college experience isn’t defined only by the degree you receive at the end of your career.”
In response to how Donald Barr was quoted, Abegg said: “I took Professor Barr’s class, and it was one of the hardest classes that I took at Stanford. He was accommodating when it came to travel and arranging proctoring for exams or cyber-submission of assignments and papers, but I’d seriously like to know in what ways athletes were ‘accommodated’ beyond the necessary coordination of scheduling due to time constraints and remote competition.”
Abegg continued: “Being a Stanford student and athlete was a huge honor and privilege. It was also a tough ‘job.’ Competing at a high level athletically, in addition to a having a demanding academic environment, can really push individuals. It made me a better person, and I can get through high-pressure situations having that experience under my belt. As for the difference between students and student-athletes, I feel the major one was not having the time to participate in extra-curricular activities outside of my sport.”
In agreement was Ali Riley, who graduated in 2010 with a major in psychology. “I think it is challenging being a student-athlete, because you do not have as much time to join other organizations,” Riley said. “If I was not playing soccer, I could have done more psychology research or been involved in the student body. But soccer is my passion, so all things considered, I definitely got the most out of my time at Stanford. It instilled in me a desire to learn, and I think I will continue my education after soccer.”
Riley, now playing with the Western New York Flash, and already carrying a national title at the professional level (a member of FC Gold Pride championship team), looks back on her time at Stanford with warmth: “You meet so many amazing people from all over the world and are given such incredible opportunities to excel in all areas of life. I was proud to be a student-athlete, because Stanford has such a prestigious athletic program, but at the same time I was in awe of all the talented artists, musicians, singers, dancers, and writers.”
While her Stanford experience was an excellent one, it was not due to special preference or a lack of work.
“Student-athletes balance a rigorous academic load while spending hours on the field, in the pool, or in the gym,” Riley said. “They work hard, and I do not believe that they are accommodated any more than other students.”