Eyes on the goal Eyes on the goal Eyes on the goal

Sociology Professor Alexes Harris, ’97, works closely with UW Athletics to help student-athletes succeed.

Interview by Jim Caple | Photo by Quinn Russell Brown | September 2021

Alexes Harris, ’97, grew up in Seattle, played high school volleyball and loves to watch Husky sports. That’s fitting, seeing how this professor of sociology is the UW’s Faculty Athletics Representative.

Do you interact with student-athletes, coaches and administrators in this role?

All of the above. In this role, I don’t work for Intercollegiate Athletics. I report directly to President Cauce. We meet regularly and I work closely with ICA communicators, Athletic Director Jen Cohen and Deputy Athletic Director Erin O’Connell, ’96. I also meet every week with Kim Durand (senior associate athletics director for student development). Before the pandemic, I would go to practices to meet students and coaches. Since the pandemic and recent social-justice issues, we’ve had a lot of discussions with teams and groups of students and coaches about those issues.

How did you get this position?

When I first came to the UW, then-football coach Tyrone Willingham invited me to meet families and potential students who would come to play football. As I helped with those recruitment practices, I learned about the Advisory Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics (ACIA), a subcommittee of administrators and faculty who meet monthly to address any issues around athletics. I became chair of that committee and I thought it would be interesting to become the Faculty Athletics Representative. It’s a neat perch to see what administrators, students and coaches do.

Did you approach this position with any initiatives or changes in mind?

One thing that we started in 2018 that I’m excited about is called “Coaches Fellows.” All new faculty are invited to participate in a three-day workshop to become acclimated to the environment, the values, the beliefs and the resources on campus. We didn’t do the same thing for our new coaches, so, in 2018, we started the “Coaches Fellows” program. All new coaches are invited to attend a half-day gathering. President Cauce will address the group and Jen Cohen will address the coaches. We have a panel of faculty that can engage with coaches and tell them about the UW’s academics and opportunities. We explain how we can help student-athletes find their academic and athletic passions so they can be a whole student here.

As a sociologist, what perspective do you bring to the athletic department?

I study the criminal legal system and how laws are interpreted and applied—as well as their consequences. For me, the NCAA is an institution. It has legislations and rules. I’m really interested in how the Pac-12 schools, including the UW, interpret and apply the rules. We have an amazing compliance staff. I think being a legal scholar in this position is so cool.

Are there any specific race, ethnicity and social-justice outcomes you are looking for?

In January, I was the chair of the search committee to hire the associate athletic director for diversity, equity and inclusion.[Sheridan Blanford was hired for the position.]The athletic director, head football coach and head men’s basketball coach contributed money to create this new position. I’m really excited to see the work that Sheridan is doing for our staff, coaches and our student-athletes about equity and inclusion—to make sure that we continue to create a space within athletics and on campus for all students, regardless of how they identify. That’s my goal: to make our students be Huskies and be themselves 100% of the time.

Do you play any sports? Do you attend Husky sports events?

I played volleyball in high school, and in my 30s, I did a number of sprint triathlons. I don’t know if I’m an athlete or not. I love to attend games. I love seeing the students do what they love to do.

What are you looking to accomplish?

I came to make sure all our students are happy and successful. They don’t see any limitations. If I can support or facilitate them as a student-athlete, that is my goal.