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A girl by any other name

Somewhere in the fall of my freshman year, I shed my first name.

I walked into the door of 301 Flowers, signed myself up to write for sports, and within a couple weeks I wasn't Meredith anymore. I was Shiner. I know it may seem like a strange and insignificant thing to be proud of, but I took such satisfaction in being called by my last name. The Chronicle's sports section is the closest thing to a fraternity I'll ever belong to, and going by my surname, in my mind, was some small sign of respect from its membership. I never was and never will be one of the guys-I know that-but I guess there was an implicit understanding in "Shiner" that I could hang with the best of them.

First as a freshman writer and later as an associate, I never thought twice about being a girl. Sports and writing came too naturally to ever doubt whether I belonged.

Then I ran to be president of the fraternity.

I am eternally grateful to the people who I have worked with for three years, the people who elected me to this position, the people who stuck out long nights in the office to make this section what it is. They have given me the greatest experience of my life.

But when it finally hit me more than a year ago that I would be the one in the editor's chair, I couldn't shake the question: Would I always be perceived as less of a sports editor because my name is Meredith?

I wrestled over whether I wanted to answer this question now, whether I wanted my last act as editor to be one marked by my gender, particularly after spending three years trying to make it a non-issue. But at a time when gender is at the forefront of discourse nationally and on this campus, I think I would regret not taking this opportunity to reflect on my experience.

I can't speak for all women. I can't speak for The Chronicle. I can't even speak for the average Duke student (I think I gave up that privilege when I didn't leave 301 Flowers for more than 12 months). I can only speak for myself. And I'm not doing this to elicit any sort of pity or pat on the back. How could I when I've had the coolest extracurricular job in the country for a whole year and almost 150 issues to show for it?

But in a perfect world, my tenure as sports editor would have been no different than those of the editors who came before me. The world, though, is not perfect and neither are we. Equality is not something that will ever be achieved quickly, if at all. Knowing that, we go about the business of building our lives anyway, maneuvering around the constrictions placed upon us in the hopes that one day, by doing so, we overcome them.

I'll never forget the first phone call I fielded in my official capacity last spring, when a news associate came back to the sports hall to let me know that an editor from a local publication wanted to speak with next year's sports editor. I turned quickly in my chair, with a sort of half-smile-that's me-and picked up the phone.

"The Chronicle, this is Meredith."

"I'm sorry. I was looking for next year's sports editor."

"You're speaking to her."

[Awkward silence]

"Oh. Wow. Good for you."

I joked about this moment later with my friends. The editor didn't mean to be patronizing or offensive, he was just reacting instinctively to what he thought he knew. It was only the first of many subtle (or not-so-subtle) moments when I was made acutely aware of my gender-from deciding what to wear to interviews ("If you wear a skirt, you're reminding Coach K you're a girl," a trusted former editor advised, as if that wouldn't be blatantly obvious in pants) to the screams of "Female reporter!" every time I stepped into a locker room.

Contrary to the beliefs expressed by Duke's student body president in an October article printed in these pages, as a female, I've never had any problems maintaining relationships with coaches or administrators. I was respectful and, I think, respected, by the adults with whom I worked. Although I understand that running a sports section is different from running a student government, I also know I've operated in one of the most male-dominated spheres on this campus and wasn't any better or worse because I'm a woman-just different.

In that same article, the DSG president suggested the solution to this problem was to get more female administrators on campus so we girls could have someone to relate to. I'm all for a stronger female presence in the Allen Building, but I think this comment speaks to the central obstacle facing driven women on this campus. The problem lies not with the administration, but with students. My greatest disappointment and failure as a sports editor was that we were only able to recruit two freshmen to consistently write for sports. Neither of them are male. Maybe the demographics of this campus are changing and fewer students are interested in sports or working for The Chronicle. Maybe it was an off year. But maybe it was that the freshman guys who walked through the 301 doors didn't give me a chance to be Shiner and dismissed me as merely Meredith.

Part of me hopes that our inability to get more writers was a direct result of my appearance-at least that way, I can be confident in the survival of the most important piece of my Duke life, this section, when I hand the reins to a male editor. The other, smaller and more selfish part of me hopes that wasn't the case, that the average modern male can be receptive to a woman in sports who doesn't look like Erin Andrews.

When Clemson came to Cameron last year-you know, the "McClutch game"-I was standing outside of the gym, alone with an extra press pass in hand and waiting for my fellow Chronicle writer. A woman with her teenage daughter walked past me and then did a double take, pausing and circling back. She then asked me if I was really a reporter. When I said yes, her eyes lit up with approval and she admitted she had been taken aback by my appearance, "Aren't you supposed to be fat and bald?"

"Oh, and I really love your boots."

In the end, while I might not have been the best sports editor, or the worst, I was unabashedly myself.

And being Shiner ain't such a bad person to be.


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