Professor Spotlight: Jennifer McGovern, Ph.D.

Jennifer McGovern, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology and Faculty Athletic Representative published an article in the March 2021 issue of the peer-reviewed journal “Latino studies.” 

The article, titled, “Are Latinx youth getting in the game? The effects of gender, class, ethnicity, and language on Latinx youth sport participation” concluded that US Latinx youth, in particular teenage girls, are less likely to participate in sports compared to other ethnoracial groups. Additionally, McGovern’s research found that sport participation was higher in native-English speaking girls than those who learned English as a second language.

McGovern specializes in understanding how sports both reflect and challenge social inequalities such as social class, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and sexuality. Her current research focuses on female athletes. 

McGovern conducted this study due to the limited amount of research that currently exists about this community. McGovern said, “There are a lot of studies that examine race and sports, but those tend to focus on Blacks and Whites. The Latinx population in the US is growing and I really wanted to research the ways that these groups engage with sports.” On top of this, knowing that this community is diverse, she wanted to examine how factors such as gender, class, and language impact sport participation. 

Her initial reasoning to explore topics pertaining to the Latinx community stems from being a sports fanatic herself, specifically baseball. She noticed there were a large number of Latinx individuals who participated in this sport. In 2006, she visited the Dominican Republic and served as a source of inspiration for her field of study. “This trip inspired me to think about which Latinos play baseball and why, which gave rise to my current interest in how things like gender, class, ethnicity, and language shape experiences for everyday folks, not just elite professionals,” 

McGovern explained.

One may think that when a professor writes a research paper, it may involve more work, but it requires the same preparation as every other paper. McGovern already knew the question she wanted to ask and decided to use an existing dataset. She applied for permission to use the data, run statistical tests, and then make sense of that information. She also had to read many other papers to see the best way she can frame her article to fit into the conversations of others. She spent a lot of time writing, editing and reading over the paper. McGovern said, “I sent it to the journal, who asked me to add some revisions and resubmit it. Ultimately, I tried to listen to feedback that others gave me so that I could make the paper better.” 

Although it may be hard to believe that a professor can face challenges when it comes to writing scholarly papers, it’s true. She said that some of those obstacles were similar to those that students face when they write their own papers—including finding time to write, staying motivated, and utilizing feedback to make her writing stronger. However, McGovern did face some unique challenges that pertained to this paper specifically.

“For this paper in particular, I had faced some challenges with coding and combining the statistical data,” she said. 

Looking back at the bigger picture of this study, one of the most shocking conclusions according to McGovern was found when she looked at youth who identified as fully Latinx compared to those who identified as mixed- Latinx plus another ethnicity/race. She found that youth who considered themselves as mixed participated in sports just a little more. 

After doing all this work from start to finish, McGovern can’t help but feel good about everything she accomplished. She said, “I think I’ll have a better feeling if this publication gets read by many people who use the findings to bring about positive change in the world of sports.”

Although the process of writing this scholarly paper had its challenges, McGovern also enjoyed telling stories about some famous Latinx athletes. She said, “My favorite part of this study was being able to show that Latinx youth are not a monolithic group by showing how various factors influenced sport participation.” 

The work doesn’t stop here, as McGovern is already exploring other ideas that she can research. She is currently working on a study with some individuals in the Health and Physical Education Department, examining how children respond to School Based Physical Activity Programs. She is also setting up a study with Lisa Dinella, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Director of Program in Gender and Intersectionality Studies, in which they plan to look at ways in which sport toys are layered with messages about gender and race.

Dinella said that it is an honor to have her as a colleague and that through her investigations she has made important contributions to the world’s understanding of race, gender, and sports. 

“In addition to her work informing us about student athletes’ experiences, she supports students here at Monmouth University by creating opportunities for students to work alongside her on these projects,” she said.

Whether it’s this research article, her previously published papers, or future ones, McGovern has a very clear message she hopes to spread with her research. 

“I hope people can see the existing disparities and create more opportunities that all youth can experience these benefits of sports, regardless of their gender, class, ethnicity, or language,” explained McGovern.