Find a printable version here
Guest Column - January 2012

Intramural Sports Programs

The Collegiate Intramural Experience: Times They Are a-Changin'

By Jeanette Vazquez, Kelly Kwiatkowski, Abigail Whaley & Peter Titlebaum


Collegiate recreational intramural sports programs consist of activities that go beyond the classroom by providing playful, social experiences that help students develop self-awareness and personal growth. Founded on the principle of "participation for all," intramural sports must be inclusive of the whole student body, not just skilled or sport-oriented individuals. However, because these particular events seem to be more popular among white male students, other groups might feel intimidated or even unwelcome in this setting.

During the 2011 NIRSA Annual Conference, the authors, Abigail Whaley and Dr. Peter Titlebaum, gave a presentation called, "Where My Girls At? Exploring the Needs of the Underrepresented Female Participant in Collegiate Intramural Sports." Participation in team sports develops important skills, including constructive communication, active listening and participation, open and willing sharing, cooperativeness, willingness to help, flexibility, team commitment, problem solving and treating others in a respectful and supportive manner. Regardless of these positive learning experiences, participation remains particularly low among female students. After discussing this lack of participation issue, it was requested that minority populations on college campuses also be included in any further research on the topic.

For the purpose of this article, the term "minority" denotes a "part of a population differing from others in some characteristics" and also refers to women, ethnic, and racial groups that are often subjected to differential treatment when compared to white males.

In 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Education, female students represented 57 percent of the nation's college enrollment. Meanwhile, the minority representation had increased from 15 percent in 1976 to 32 percent in 2007. With this rapidly growing representation of minorities comes a challenge for both the curricular and extracurricular programs in higher education.

Despite these growing numbers, most intramural programs are hard pressed to attract participants from any minority group, including international students. Perhaps the main reason is that intramural sports programs do not offer activities in which they are interested. Another issue could be that the current intramural programs are too competitive for those interested in playing for recreational and social purposes.

If intramural programs continue to cater to the white male population in upcoming years, it is evident that all other group participation numbers will dwindle, ultimately resulting in low overall student involvement. The needs of this rapidly-increasing population of students cannot continue to be ignored.

Attention from administrators in collegiate recreation is needed in order to enhance diversity and incorporate ideas to better promote inclusion in recreational sports. Intramural recreational directors need to reach out to the disenfranchised student body. Based on 93 recreation directors surveyed by the authors in 2010, the number of females involved in intramural sports is less than 20 percent of their overall participation. Further, there is only a small window to gaining participation. If females do not enroll in intramural sports by their freshman or sophomore year, playing intramurals is unlikely. Similar conclusions can also be drawn about other minority groups.