Brown University reinstated three varsity teams after athletes said the school was hurting diversity

Brown University reversed its decision about making track, field and cross country club sports.

(CNN)Track is the reason Eric Ingram is a student at an Ivy League school like Brown University.

Coming from a small suburb of Columbus, Ohio, Ingram said he had never even heard of the Rhode Island school until a coach reached out to recruit him to run sprints.
When Ingram woke up to news that he and his track teammates were stripped of their varsity team status on May 28, he said he was shocked and frustrated that effective immediately he was no longer a varsity athlete and track would be considered a club sport instead.
    Ingram's team was not alone.
    Eleven of the school's sports programs were stripped of their varsity status in an effort to "improve the competitiveness of varsity athletes, enhance the strength of club sports and provide equal opportunities in athletics for women and men at Brown," the school said in an online statement.
    Ingram and his peers in the demoted sports pushed back.
    "We got a group together of all the student athletes of color and, in wake of everything that's happening in America, we decided that it's an incredibly accurate and timely example of just why we're put in these situations and why we face what we face in terms of systematic racism and just all these hard challenges we have to overcome," Ingram said. "And Brown indirectly made it harder for us to overcome those obstacles and clear those hurdles."

    Their calls for reinstatement resonated with leadership

    On Wednesday, Brown President Christina H. Paxson said the university would reverse the decision for the school's track, field and cross country teams after the Brown community expressed serious concerns about the rank change's "implications to build and sustain diverse and inclusive communities for students at Brown, and particularly for black students and alumni."
    While Ingram is pleased with the reversal, he told CNN, he's frustrated that it happened in the first place.
    "Our students, alumni and parents took the time to share their deeply personal stories of the transformative impact that participation in track, field and cross country has had on their lives," Paxson wrote Wednesday in a letter to the Brown community. "Many noted that, through Brown's history, these sports have been a point of entry to higher education for academically talented students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity, many of them students of color."

    Sports are an entryway to the Ivy League

    Former Princeton track athlete Russell Dinkins joined in the fight to get Brown to reverse its decision because he saw himself in those athletes.
    "Sports is the greatest entryway to the Ivy League," he said. "It provides the biggest admissions advantage, more than legacy admissions."
    Varsity teams are allotted a certain amount of spots for recruiting purposes, according to Dinkins, whereas club sports don't have recruited spots. And while Brown, as a member of the Ivy League, doesn't award academic or athletic scholarships, varsity athletic coaches are able to recommend to admissions officers students they think will be a welcome addition to campus, according to the school's website.
    Brown's decision to drop track, field and cross country from its varsity ranks could have had life altering consequences, Dinkins said.
    He took issue with Brown's initial decision to close off access for deserving students because had it not been for track he too would have missed out on an Ivy League education at Princeton.
    Even though Dinkins is a Princeton alum, he said it's not about where he went to school. He wanted to help fight for one of the few access points available for students coming from diverse backgrounds and disadvantaged socioeconomic statuses.

    A decision two years in the making

    In Paxson's initial letter to students in May, she said the school conducted an internal review during the 2018-19 academic year and consultants concluded there were too many varsity sports at Brown which "was a barrier to competitiveness."
    "In the decade ending in 2018, Brown earned 2.8% of Ivy titles, the lowest in the Ivy League," Paxson said. "This outcome is inconsistent with the Ivy League principle of competitive balance across schools, and with Brown's commitment to excellence in all we do."
    In January she asked a committee of alumni with "deep ties to Brown athletics" to come up with ways to improve the student athletics program.