University of Arizona Swim Teams, Coaches Criticize NCAA Over Lia Thomas

University of Arizona Swim Teams, Coaches Criticize NCAA Over Lia Thomas

By Corinne Murdock |

In a joint letter last week to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), University of Arizona (UArizona) current and alumnae swimmers and coaches criticized the decision to allow transgender University of Pennsylvania (Penn) swimmer Lia (née William) Thomas to compete in the Division 1 national championships. The UArizona group asserted that the NCAA “failed everyone” by trying to “appease everyone,” insisting that Thomas worked against the equality of women in sports enshrined by Title IX.

“We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX this year. From the birth of the NCAA in 1906 until 1972, women had to fight to earn the law that provided equal opportunities for women in sports. It took a male to female transgender person one year to take the women’s swimming national championship title,” wrote the group. “This is not equality. Women’s standings, titles, records, and scholarships are suddenly at risk again. Opening the door to allowing natural born men to acquire precious, life altering financial aid packages often split up between multiple women per team defeats the very essence of the flagship legislation we are ironically celebrating this very year.”

The swimmers and coaches also noted that the UArizona Athletics Director, Associate AD for Diversity, and Senior Women’s Advocate remained silent on the issue of transgender women — men — in women’s sports.

Thomas won the 500 freestyle race, but lost in the 200 and 100 freestyle races; however, Thomas reportedly has lost races intentionally in the recent past. Teammates who reported his intentional losses claimed that he was trying to prove that males don’t have biological advantages to females, observing that it was clear Thomas wasn’t trying. They speculated that Thomas colluded with a transgender male swimmer from Yale University, Iszac Henig, so Henig would beat Thomas and make it appear as though women could outperform men. 

“Looking at [Thomas’] time, I don’t think [Thomas] was trying,” the Penn swimmer alleges. “I know [Thomas and Henig are] friends and I know they were talking before the meet. I think [Thomas] let her win to prove the point that, ‘Oh see, a female-to-male beat me.’”

The UArizona swimmers credited their decision to submit their letter based on a letter submitted by University of Texas (UT) alumnae and coaches a week prior. Among those on the UT letter were Olympians and UT Hall of Honor inductees, as well as pro golfer and UT Hall of Honor inductee Cindy Figg-Currier. 

The letter, first published in Swimming World Magazine, is reproduced in full below:

Dear NCAA Board of Governors,

Do we have a voice?

It’s hard to express the anguish the women’s swim community has experienced this past week watching the 2022 NCAA Swim & Dive Championships. On one hand, we feel we are witnessing irrevocable damage to a sport that has transformed our own identities for the better. On the other, we have reconnected with each other in sisterhood after many busy years living our lives beyond the water’s edge. We are grateful for the many women who have stood up to publicly speak up in protest of your policies including UT’s swim alumni who penned a thoughtful letter to their Athletic Director and inspired us to write from the University of Arizona alumni perspective. We have collected some of our own thoughts on paper to plead to swimming leadership at every level to take immediate action to protect our women athletes.

In 2008, USA Swimming chief Chuck Wielgus was asked to comment on a “culture of fair play” regarding a female swimmer who had tested positive for a banned anabolic agent called Clenbuterol. He claimed at the time “within the culture of swimming, if you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing, we want to catch you and throw you out of the sport. In other sports, it’s about excuses and justifications and being innocent until you’re proven guilty.” According to the USADA website, Clenbuterol is prohibited in sport because it “promotes muscle growth through anabolic properties.” The Mayo Clinic reports “the main anabolic steroid hormone produced by the body is testosterone” and that it “has anabolic effects promoting muscle building.” In a little over a decade, USA Swimming, the leading organization of swimming in the world has surrendered its firm stance on fair play. This has encouraged other organizations such as the NCAA to make accommodations for biological men who have had the benefits of testosterone throughout natural development and beyond.

According to Duke’s Center for Sports Law and Policy, “there is an average 10-12% performance gap between elite males and elite females” in sport. What advantage does testosterone have for natural born men in swimming specifically? This year in the 500 freestyle the men’s A standard qualifying time is 4:11.62. The women’s A standard qualifying time was 4:35.76. That is a difference of 24.14 seconds. To put that into perspective, the male swimmer in the last seed going into the meet would be two full laps ahead of his female counterpart in this event. This one example alone demonstrates the advantages a biologically male swimmer has over a female. Physiological advantages exist.

Looking back on another moment in swim history, in 2010 FINA banned the use of high tech performance swim suits as the “shiny suit era” saw “records falling at an alarming rate” due to a competitive advantage given to swimmers who had the suits available to them. This year at the fastest short course swim meet in the world, the body inside the suit is what raises cause for concern.

The decisions of the NCAA this year hoped to appease everyone by allowing Lia Thomas to compete directly with women. Instead, the NCAA has successfully failed everyone. A target was placed on the back of a trans athlete subjecting this person to devastating national outcry and humiliation. This swimmer’s lone points for Penn this March catapulted a team to a top-20 program in the country after failing to score a single point last year. Additionally, women athletes competing in the meet were forced to swim in unfair direct competition therefore eliminating all integrity of the entire championship meet.

We are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX this year. From the birth of the NCAA in 1906 until 1972, women had to fight to earn the law that provided equal opportunities for women in sports. It took a male to female transgender person one year to take the women’s swimming national championship title. This is not equality. Women’s standings, titles, records, and scholarships are suddenly at risk again. Opening the door to allowing natural born men to acquire precious, life altering financial aid packages often split up between multiple women per team defeats the very essence of the flagship legislation we are ironically celebrating this very year.

Female to male transgender athletes do not have the same opportunities as their male to female counterparts. They are heavily disadvantaged when it comes to earning a spot on the team they identify due to strength and speed differences between gender categories. This was represented this year in the 100 freestyle by Yale’s Iszac Henig, a transgender male competing at the women’s championship. This swimmer placed fifth in the event. Henig’s time of 47.52 earned the swimmer an All-American award and added 13.5 points to Yale’s team score. Had Henig chosen to swim at the men’s competition however, the same time would have failed to even reach the men’s A qualifying time of 41.71 by almost six seconds dashing the whisper of a chance this swimmer would even step up to the block.

There were many options the NCAA could have implemented to create a fair environment for women competitors. A trans athlete could compete in the meet that aligns with birth gender such as Henig did. At the championship level, there are 10 lanes available in the pool while only 8 swimmers compete per heat. Therefore, a trans athlete could have been added to any finals heat in addition to the 16 women who qualified without pushing any of the deserving women out of the finals such as VT’s Reka Gyorgy , who personally spoke out about the inequality she was subjected to being shut out of the finals. Trans specific heats with separate awards categories and scoring was another alternative. The NCAA could have implemented the more stringent USA Swimming guidelines at the very least. Moving forward, trans swim meets could be organized and built into a new category of athletic competition similar to the Paralympic or Special Olympic platforms to continue to widen the umbrella of inclusion in athletics.

We are writing this letter to the NCAA who has a President at the helm responsible for cutting both the University of Washington’s swimming programs in 2009. Mr. Emmert stood firmly by his decisions as “the right ones for us.” The NCAA Board of Governors is predominantly men. Of the 65 Athletic Directors in the Power 5, only 5 are women. At the University of Arizona, our Athletics Director, Associate AD for Diversity, and Senior Women’s Advocate have remained silent on this issue unfolding over the course of this entire season. These revelations and disparities alarm us when it seems there was no urgency in skillfully and educationally addressing how the scientific and biologic differences may impact women’s competitions. Do we have a voice? The people responsible for protecting women’s swimming should swiftly rectify the guidelines. The women from the University of Arizona will not quietly stand down while our victories and accomplishments float away.

We are eager and willing to discuss directly with the NCAA potential steps it can implement to create new solutions for the expanding athletic family. Please contact us with your next steps towards a fairer future.

Respectfully,

The Women of Arizona Swimming & Diving

info@womenfins.com

Marshi Smith (02-06) NCAA Champion

Frank Busch 6-Time NCAA Coach of the Year for the University of Arizona (11-17) USA Swimming National Team Director

2008 National Championship Team Members:

Lacey Nymeyer-John (04-08) NCAA Woman of the Year, NCAA Champion, Olympic Medalist

Brandy Collins Maben (04-08) Team Captain

Lindsey Kelly (05-09) NCAA All-American

Taylor Baughman (05-09) NCAA All-American, Team Captain

Caroline Rollins (05-09) Team Manager

Lara Jackson (06-09) NCAA Champion, American Record Holder

Annie Chandler (06-10) NCAA Woman of the Year Finalist

Caitlin Iversen (06-10) NCAA All-American

Carley Beaudreau (06-10) NCAA All-American

Dana Christ (07-11) NCAA All-American

Susana Starbuck (07-11) Team Captain

Lindsey Farella (97-02) NCAA Champion, Team Captain

Julie Manitt Andrew (99-03) NCAA All-American

Jenna Gresdal Davis (02-06) Olympian, NCAA Champion

Lisa Pursley Ebeling (02-06) NCAA All-American, Current Head Coach UNC

Katie Willis (02-06) NCAA All-American

Ryann Hackett (02-06) NCAA All-American Honorable Mention

Danielle Erickson (05-06) Big-12 Conference Finalist (Nebraska)

Emily Strouse (03-07) Olympic Trial Qualifier, Pac-10 Team Champion

Kathryn Elofson (03-07) Pac-10 Champion

Whitney Myers (03-07) NCAA Woman of the Year, 5x NCAA Champion

Julie Stupp (08-09) NCAA Runner up, 2x Team Champion (Auburn)

Grace Kittle (07-12) NCAA All-American

Andrea Smith (08-13) Team Manager

Monica Refsnyder (09-13) NCAA All-American, American Record Holder

Ellyn Baumgardner (09-13) NCAA All-American, Team Captain

Aubrey Peacock (10-12) NCAA All-American

Megan Lafferty (12-13) American Record Holder, Pac-12 Champion

Alana Pazevic (12-14) NCAA All-American, Pac-12 Champion

Elizabeth Pepper (13-15) NCAA All-American

Bonnie Brandon (12-16) NCAA All-American

Emma Schoettmer (12-16) NCAA All-American

Alexandra Martelle (14-18) Pac-12 Finalist

Mackenzie Rumrill (15-19) NCAA Woman of the Year Nominee, NCAA All-American

Mallory Korenwinder (16-20) NCAA All-American

Dennis Pursley (89-03) USA Swimming Team Director 5x Olympic Coach, ASCA Hall of Fame Inductee

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

University of Arizona Offers College Credit to Play Age of Empires Video Game

University of Arizona Offers College Credit to Play Age of Empires Video Game

By Corinne Murdock |

The University of Arizona (UArizona) will award one future college credit to individuals who play their informational version of the popular Age of Empires video game, called “Illuminated Histories.” 

UArizona partnered with Microsoft to create the modified game. History department head and associate professor of Roman history Alison Futrell, a self-described fellow “gamer,” will teach the course alongside associate professor of medieval history Paul Milliman. Milliman described the course as the first step toward an online B.A. history degree. 

Age of Empires is an acclaimed series of nine video games and several spin-offs, with the first game released in 1997. A principal designer for the original game series, Bruce Shelley, said on his Microsoft Games profile page that the developers relied mostly on children’s books to concoct the historical basis of the game. He dismissed the idea that the game relied on extensive, detailed research, instead characterizing it solely as a strategy game.

“The research for Age of Empires was done in the local community library. Extensive, detailed research is not necessary or even a good idea for most entertainment products. The best reference materials are often found in the children’s section because this is the level of historic interest for most of the gaming public,” said Shelley. “If you build in too much historic detail you run the risk of making the game obtuse. The players should have the fun, not the designers or researchers. We are trying to entertain people, not impress them with our scholarship. The words ‘model’ or ‘simulation’ are often a warning signal that the game is not fun.”

In a separate panel interview years later, Shelley clarified that history wasn’t the main point of the game, but rather “human experience.”

“The games aren’t so much about history but about the human experience, which is not just what we’ve done and what we are doing, but what we might do,” said Shelley.

“We love to study the role of games in the premodern world: exploring how they’ve impacted human society and individual lives over time. Games connect the past, present, and future in a way that makes them ideal for teaching and learning history,” said Futrell. “History begins with wonder, which is why you will have opportunities to dive deeper into the history surrounding Age of Empires IV. If you’ve ever wondered about topics like medieval medicine, the role of women warriors, or the culture of the Mongol empire – professor Milliman and I have written ‘Illuminated Histories’ from the University of Arizona to help you engage with the historical sources.”

UArizona’s latest recruitment campaign, first reported by Arizona Daily Independent, came out a day before the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) announced a significant low in college enrollments. The latest ABOR report noted that about 46 percent of students went on to enroll in a two- or four-year college degree in 2020. Based on declining college enrollments, college completions, and high school completions, ABOR estimated that less than 17 percent of current high school freshmen would graduate from a four-year college.

The ABOR report claimed that college degrees directly impacted the quality of Arizona’s workforce. 

“This is a concern because educational attainment is a primary factor that impacts the quality of Arizona’s labor market and the state’s ability to compete regionally and nationally for high-paying employers and jobs,” stated ABOR.

According to a 2018 study, the majority of those who played video games graduated from college. A vast majority of the remainder had completed at least one or more years of college or graduate school at the time of the survey. 

UArizona hasn’t been the only university to turn to video games to increase the appeal of a higher education. In recent years, universities have begun to offer scholarships for competitive video gaming, called “esports.” The 2018 championship game for League of Legends, a multiplayer game, reached a peak of 200 million viewers – more than double than the last three Super Bowls. The League of Legends championships normally pull well over 100 million viewers.

Global video game revenues have surpassed the global movie and American sports industries combined.

That potential success that governing bodies like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) are considering the addition of esports to their purview. 

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

University of Arizona Offers College Credit to Play Age of Empires Video Game

University of Arizona Ranked Top Ten for Highest Enrollment of Peace Corps Fellows

By Corinne Murdock |

According to the Peace Corps, the University of Arizona (UArizona) ranked sixth in the top ten for institutions offering graduate degree financial aid for returned volunteers. UArizona had a total of 48 students enrolled.

UArizona’s ranking was determined by enrollment in the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program: an opportunity for Peace Corps volunteers to receive financial aid for a graduate degree, becoming Coverdell Fellows. Another perk includes the potential to obtain up to three years of an extended noncompetitive eligibility (NCE) status for federal employment, which Peace Corps volunteers normally enjoy for 12 months. NCE status ensures that returned Peace Corps volunteers are given an edge in the hiring process.

Eligible Peace Corps volunteers are those who complete a full two years of service, are given “completion of service” or “interrupted service” status, medically separated, or Response or Global Health Services Partnership Volunteers that complete 12 months of service in a 24-month period.

The other universities ranked in the top ten were as follows, in order: American University, University of Denver, Brandeis University, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Emory University, John Hopkins University, Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University, and the Teachers College of Columbia University.

In a press release, Peace Corps Acting Director Carol Spahn explained that these universities put Coverdell Fellows on track to continue their volunteer service while obtaining higher education.  

“We are grateful to partner with these universities to support our returned volunteers as they work toward their academic goals and continue their commitment to lifelong service,” said Spahn. “A graduate degree, in combination with the perspective and skills gained through Peace Corps service, enables returned volunteers to become and inspire our next generation of global leaders.”

UArizona also achieved a similar distinction last February at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ranking 17 out of the top 20. Over 120 universities and colleges across 38 states accommodate Coverdell Fellows, totaling over 200 programs amounting to over 300 graduate and postgraduate degrees.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

University of Arizona Ranks High for Most Diversity-Equity-Inclusion Staff

University of Arizona Ranks High for Most Diversity-Equity-Inclusion Staff

By Corinne Murdock |

The University of Arizona (UArizona) ranked high for its number of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) staff compared with 65 other universities. Arizona State University (ASU) ranked toward the bottom. This data was published in a study by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in D.C.

The data was organized into four categories: the total number of DEI personnel at the university, the ratio of DEI personnel to American Disability Act (ADA) personnel, the average number of DEI personnel per 100 faculty members, and the ratio of DEI personnel to history faculty.

Out of all 65 universities, UArizona ranked #13 for having 59 total DEI personnel, #54 for their nearly two-to-one DEI personnel per ADA faculty ratio, #19 for their average number of nearly 4 DEI personnel per 100 faculty members, and #7 for their over two-to-one DEI personnel/History faculty ratio.

By comparison, ASU ranked #49 for having 28 total DEI personnel, #63 for their one-to-one DEI/ADA personnel ratio, #58 for their average number of two DEI personnel per 100 faculty members, and #48 for their one-to-one DEI personnel/History faculty ratio.

The Heritage Foundation only catalogued the 65 universities within the Power 5 conferences – those athletic conferences with the nation’s top football programs – which is why they didn’t include Northern Arizona University (NAU).

In a summary report of the data, The Heritage Foundation found that the average university sampled had more than 45 people with formal DEI promotion goals, 4.2 times more DEI staff than student disability accommodation staff, 1.4 times more DEI staff than professors in corresponding history departments, and 3.4 people working to promote DEI for every 100 tenured or tenure-track faculty members.

Three schools nabbed the number-one ranking for their number of DEI personnel. The University of Michigan (UM) earned two number one slots for having 163 DEI personnel total, nearly 15 DEI personnel for every one ADA faculty member. New York’s Syracuse University (SU) earned a number one slot for having over 7 DEI personnel per 100 faculty members. Lastly, Georgia Tech (GT) earned a number one slot for having over 3 DEI personnel for every history faculty member.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

Professor’s Underwater Tent Invention To Appear On Shark Week

Professor’s Underwater Tent Invention To Appear On Shark Week

An underwater tent co-invented by a University of Arizona professor will be featured during the Discovery Channel’s popular Shark Week this month.

Dubbed the Ocean Space Habitat, the portable inflatable tent allows occupants to essentially camp out underwater. Co-invented by UArizona professor Winslow Burleson and professional diver Michael Lombardi, the tent will be featured in the episode “The Great Hammerhead Stakeout,” which airs July 18 on Discovery+.

Burleson is a professor and director of research for the School of Information in the UArizona College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and has a joint appointment in the university’s Health Sciences Design Program. Burleson, who is also a member of the university’s BIO5 Institute, helped develop the technology for the tent when he was a professor at New York University.

“(The University of Arizona’s) Ocean Space Habit research collaborations are expanding what is possible and feasible in a broad range of underwater environments, ranging from coral reefs studies and novel fisheries to human robot collaborative teams and planetary analogue missions,” Burleson said. “Airing first-of-its-kind hammerhead research on Shark Week is certainly one of the highlights to date.”

The tent provides a relatively dry and protected space underwater for divers to enter, remove their equipment and carry out tasks before returning to the surface. The high-tech habitat provides a place for deep sea divers to decompress after deep scientific dives and for medical treatments to be administered for decompression sickness in remote locations. It also gives divers the ability to engage in long-term observations of wildlife behavior and to conduct science experiments before surfacing. The tent system is highly portable and can provide adequate life support to two occupants through an overnight stay.

Multiple experimental deployments of the tent have occurred since 2011, and the platform is now emerging as a viable scientific tool.

“The underwater value is analogous to a backpacking excursion – we certainly learn more from an overnight in the environment than a short walk in the park. That step has not yet been taken in the underwater world in an affordable and accessible way for the masses,” Lombardi said.

Burleson is a social inventor with expertise in human computer interaction and the learning sciences. He previously served as principal investigator for the NSF Experiential Supercomputing: A Transdisciplinary Research and Innovation Holodeck grant. He has authored more than 100 scholarly articles, holds 11 patents and twice received Time magazine’s Top Inventions of the Year Awards.