On Nov. 11, Michigan water polo senior attacker, and president of Women Uplifting Women, Maddie O’Reilly sat in on her favorite event her organization has held.
O’Reilly listened to women’s tennis alumna Giulia Pairone speak about her experience as a Michigan student-athlete and a psychology masters student at Florida State, and she felt vindicated in watching a display of her organization’s goals.
“She just brought in a really vulnerable and raw experience,” O’Reilly said. “And so it created a really intimate setting, where girls were able to open up about problems that maybe they wouldn't have felt comfortable addressing other settings.”
In creating a space for Michigan’s female student-athletes to receive guidance in an intimate and vulnerable setting, Pairone helped to realize a mission developed two years ago.
Courtney Bostic, a recent alumna of the Wolverines’ women’s track and field program, created Women Uplifting Women in 2019 for female Michigan athletes in response to what she felt was a pressing issue.
“She really felt like female student athletes weren't getting the opportunities that they deserved while being a student athlete,” O’Reilly said.
Bostic began her project with a speaker series, and it’s only grown since.
“It's really evolved since then,” O’Reilly said. “I joined the team in January of last year. And so Women Uplifting Women really just provides a space where female student-athletes can meet industry professionals in a more intimate and vulnerable setting.”
Such an organization has obvious value no matter its target audience, but the realities of women’s experiences in sports only increase that value.
“My first experience with (discrimination in sports) would have been in high school,” O’Reilly said. “The men got to play the prime time, they got to play at 6 or 7 pm. And the girls had to play at like, 3 o'clock when people were still practicing. And people couldn't come to our games, but they always put the men's games at that time so everyone would be able to come watch.
“I always felt like the girls teams were expected to clean up after practices and things like that, when the men's team would just go in the locker room and get ready to go home. I always felt like we're pulling the lane lines out all the time.”
O’Reilly’s experience is one of many. And those experiences are not limited to just the playing of sports either.
Discrimination in the sports world extends to the business side as well, which is a primary reason why O’Reilly thinks that it is so important for women to have access to industry professionals through Women Uplifting Women. There are specific concerns that arise from the experience of being a woman in sports, and one of Women Uplifting Women’s most important goals is to provide ample space for those concerns to be addressed.
“We bring in speakers based on the topics that female student-athletes are interested in,” O’Reilly said. ”They have the opportunity to ask questions such as, ‘How is it balancing having children and working a full time job?’ or ‘Do you feel like you're discriminated against in your office because you’re one of very few women?’ You know, questions that you might not feel comfortable asking in other settings.”
And the concerns lying beneath these questions will directly impact the mental health, life and livelihood of the women asking them as they might leave the athletic world and enter the professional world. So the opportunity Women Uplifting Women provides for these concerns to be addressed, discussed and shared makes that transition even easier.
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