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SA expresses concerns about inflatable dome, gender equity in athletics


Courtesy Rick Mello. Note: This is a mockup of the inflatable bubble by Rice Athletics, but not necessarily representative of the size or location of the actual bubble. 

By Cameron Wallace and Rynd Morgan     4/26/19 12:08pm

The Student Association Senate passed two resolutions on April 22 intended to express undergraduate concerns about the athletic department’s plans to build of an inflatable dome.

One of the resolutions includes a letter written by the resolutions’ sponsors, McMurtry College senior Quinn Mathews and Duncan College senior Ashton Duke, to be sent to the Board of Trustees and the athletic department expressing the SA’s opposition to the construction of the dome. The other resolution requests that the athletic department sign a memorandum of understanding to hold them accountable for the promises they have made throughout the approval process. 

SA Opposition

“Most of this is saying that we currently oppose how this process has gone about and the current structure and plan for the structure itself,” Mathews said. “With some changes, the student body would probably better see the use [of the inflatable dome.]” 

According to Duke, the board will be voting on the construction of the dome in May. At the Inflatable Dome Q&A Session at the same SA Senate meeting, FE&P’s Athletics and Information Technology Liaison Larry Vossler said that the team working on the inflatable dome was trying to get site plans ready for the city in the next two weeks. 

Duke said that Survey of All Students data, as well as concerns from the student body, prompted them to propose both resolutions.

“We just wanted to sum up that ... the dome is putting a damper on the progression of women’s sports, and given that a large percentage of the student body is not in support of it, we don’t want to cause a greater rift between athletics and the student body,” Duke said. “Instead, we want to work with them on a plan that we are more heavily involved in.” 

Student Input

At the Q&A Session, Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard said that he was taking feedback on the dome from student athletes and other undergraduates.

“I’m the athletics director, so those are the first students I’m listening to, but I’ve heard some of your feedback,” Karlgaard said. “I think we’ve tried to make some assurances of ways that we’re going to go about funding and scheduling this facility that hopefully will alleviate some of your concerns,” Karlgaard said.

According to the letter to the board and the athletic department, Survey of All Students data found that out of 2,106 responses, 57 percent of respondents opposed the construction of the dome, 20 percent supported it and the remaining 23 percent were indifferent.

At the Q&A Session, Jones College Senator Drew Carter said that based on what he heard from Karlgaard and Vossler, he believed that the inflatable dome would go up with or without student feedback.

“I think we can discuss how we would want this process to have gone, but it’s really not looking like that’s gonna go with much consideration to the students,” Carter, a Jones freshman, said. “I think a point of conversation I’d like to begin with is what steps are we taking to ensure that our women’s sports teams have the proper resources, have adequate funding for additional programming and additional funding.”

Gender Inequity

The letter says that students feel they have not been adequately involved in the planning process and expresses concern that the space would exclude users outside of the football team. It also cites general concerns about gender inequality in Rice sports, with Rice spending $13,329,200 a year on football alone and only $9,206,028 total on women’s sports in the 2018 fiscal year, according to the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis database. 

“This dome ... would increase infinite access of football to four facilities whereas a lot of other sports have to share facilities campuswide,” Mathews said. “But women’s sports have been showing really good success in the past couple years, and our success in women’s sports currently isn’t being reflected in the budget.” 

In light of this funding discrepancy, the letter states that similar fundraising tactics could instead be used to create a natatorium for the women’s swim team, which it says is drastically underfunded, allowing Rice to develop a diving team.

Bike Track Amendments

The letter also suggests that the athletic department’s decision to build the dome in the center of the bike track represents an intrusion of space, since it was not obvious that the department researched other locations. 

“The bike track is used by all and it is being put on a space we hold close to our Rice experience,” the letter says. “Even though we have been repeatedly promised that research would be done on alternate locations, we have not received word back on the locations we proposed.”

The memorandum indicated by the other resolution demands that the athletic department formally commit to allowing all campus organizations access to the space, secure all funding relevant to the dome from outside sources and ensure that the bike track can continue to be safely used. It outlines safety measures for the track that include the repavement of the track, reshaping of the curves of the track, adding permanent fencing around the track, installing automotive signaling and placing lighting around the track and the dome.

According to Vossler, the athletic department currently has a $130,000 budget to redo part of the track.

“The thing that would make biking safer is widening the width of the track,” Vossler said at the Q&A session. “The inflatable structure itself will not actually affect the track.”

Karlgaard said at the Q&A session that he did not believe the inflatable dome was LEED certified and that he did not know if any tests had been performed to prove the dome was safe.

“I majored in history, so I’m not the person to ask, but if our engineering team and general committee tell us that it’s gonna be safe, I’m gonna take their expert opinion,” Karlgaard said.

This article has been updated to include additional context for Duke’s quotes, to update Board of Governors to Board of Trustees and to indicate that Vossler works for FE&P.

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