“It takes a village to raise a child,” is a proverb that conveys the need for the collective efforts of individuals to provide for the future. It is also what Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Suzanne Willey describes as the means of success in the athletic department at the University of Indianapolis.
“Our success comes from the great people we surround ourselves with,” Willey said.
In 1975, Willey started coaching and teaching part time while obtaining her master’s degree at the University of Indianapolis. Since 1977, she has been formally employed at UIndy. Over her 47 years at the university, she has witnessed many changes, including different university presidents, three different names for UIndy and different fight songs.
As a freshman in high school, Willey received tutelage from her physical education teacher. The inspiration from her teacher is a partially why she is at the university today.
“It was my ninth grade PE teacher. She came from Iowa [and] just graduated from here. I always knew I was going to be a teacher. I loved athletics, so I would gravitate towards the PE teachers,” Willey said. “I learned everything about then ICC [Indiana Central College]. I learned the fight song before I ever came to the university, and I learned more about it my high school year when I came to visit.”
With school spirit in her heart, Willey decided UIndy was the right college for her. After graduating from UIndy in 1975, she decided to work with the athletic department.
“I’ve coached five different sports. I’ve played five different sports,” Willey said. “I actually started the tennis team when I was a sophomore here.”
Throughout her years as a student and administrator, Willey has been advocating women’s equality in sports. With the help of Title IX, Willey said she is able to ensure that male and female athletes receive equal opportunities. For example, she said if that if the coaches and uniforms of the male and female teams were switched, the teams would still be the same. Furthermore, she explained how the teams swap who practices in what locations.
“The boys would practice in Nicoson, and the girls in Ruth Lilly, and they would switch,” Willey said. “Additionally, they would both receive similar accommodations for travel.”
According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, Title IX states that equal opportunities for men and women are mandatory for any school receiving federal funding, including students receiving federal scholarships. Therefore, one part of the three-pronged test must be fulfilled in order to adhere to Title IX standards.
The first is that the sports teams must equally represent the gender demographic of the population on campus. The second involves expanding opportunities to the underrepresented gender in a way that is responsive to developing interest. The third involves sponsoring all sports in which there is interest by the underrepresented gender.
“Number one, I’m here to serve the administration, to serve the coaches, and to serve the student athletes,” Willey said.
Willey makes sure that UIndy adheres to the second prong. By providing surveys across campus and receiving feedback, she ensures that expansion of opportunities to the underrepresented gender on campus is a priority.
Considering the gender composition of UIndy is roughly 60 percent female and 40 percent male, according to Willey, and including the nearly 100 men on the football team alone, the percentages of student athletes are nearly inverse.
Nearly 60 percent of men are in athletics and only 40 percent of women. As such, the ability to adhere to prong one is nonexistent, Willey said. The third prong, sponsoring all sports, would stretch the department and its funding too thin, according to Willey.
But it is not just the female athletes for whom Willey advocates, it is all student athletes.
“You [must] make sure there is a positive experience for student athletes,” Willey said. “That’s why we are here.”
In addition, she has a hands-on approach to the teams, choosing to talk to every team at the beginning of the season. While the positive experience is important to Willey, she also keeps a gold standard for the athletes. By mandating additional drug testing that surpasses National Collegiate Athletic Association standards, she makes sure every athlete is held responsible.
Willey has received many awards for herself and UIndy, from the 2010 Central Region Athletic Director of the Year, to helping UIndy to be one of the top overall athletic programs in NCAA DII and the state of Indiana in four out of the past five seasons.
Overall, UIndy has been the highest-ranked athletic program in the state of Indiana across all divisions and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. After her contributions to the university and its athletes, Willey still says it takes a village.