On Oct. 8, College of the Ozarks hosted Riley Gaines, 12-time NCAA All-American and a 5-ti
me SEC National Champion, for the first ever Family Weekend event. The event was designed to give students an opportunity to show their new college home to their parents and share a fun-filled weekend packed with events. Gaines spoke to students of the College and their families as the capstone event for the weekend. Over 850 students, staff, and family members attended the convocation.
Gaines now travels the country defending women’s rights to privacy and competition. Gaines has been an active voice against men in women’s sports and private spaces since March 2022, when she and her teammates were forced to compete against Lia Thomas, a biological man, and share locker rooms with him.
After being required to share a locker room and swim against a transgender swimmer, Gaines recognized the need for women to stand up and defend their sports. Gaines now travels the country speaking out against the integration of transgender individuals into women’s sports, both to preserve the integrity of women’s sports and also to protect the privacy of the women participating.
“This was an opportunity to hear from a person in our current media who is very like-minded with the College and is standing up for what makes sense and is moral,” said Ryan Knight, dean of students. “Our core values are to steward faithfully, create community, and pursue good. Our convocation speaker hit the mark of each value.”
Gaines shared her personal, professional and spiritual journey with the audience, including details about her swimming career and what pushed her to become a national spokesperson for women’s rights. When Gaines first heard of Lia, formerly Will Thomas, she was shocked at the unprecedented fast times he was recording. Swimming is an incredibly competitive sport, with times measuring down to hundredths of a second. Thomas was winning by body-lengths, so Gaines did her own research to discover the truth.
“I went to USA Swimming to discover who Will Thomas was. I was curious if this was a lateral movement. Was this someone who went from ranking among the top when competing against the men, to now doing the same against the women? Which is, of course, not what we saw. We saw this was a mediocre man at best, ranking 462nd in the nation the year prior when competing against the men, to now dominating the entire country of women.”
She recalled the day that Lia, formerly Will Thomas was allowed to swim with the women at the 2022 SEC National Championship and tied for first place with Gaines. After being denied the privilege of holding the trophy for the sake of a photo opportunity, Gaines shared what went through her mind.
“That was what thrusted me over the edge. Of course, all season I knew what was happening was wrong. We all did, in regards to the unfair competition, and the locker room, and the silencing. But it wasn’t until they reduced everything we had worked our entire lives for down to a photo op to validate the feelings and identity of a male at the expense of our own….That’s when I was done waiting for someone else to take a stand,” Gaines said.
Gaines also took this opportunity to commend College of the Ozarks on its strong Christian stance, against the Executive Order that would seek to obstruct the College from offering housing for women separate from men.
“What they’ve said is if you don’t allow men to live in dorm rooms with women, not even just the same hall or the same dormitory, but the same room, then you could receive huge fines. This school is fighting back. You have leaders that have said ‘no,’ and have planned for all contingencies. That is true leadership,” Gaines said.
Students found that this convocation gave them a more personal look into to the problems that come with men taking part in women’s sports. It gave them a better understanding of the strength it takes to stand up for what is right, and the value in making your voice heard in a respectful way.
“I found Riley’s dedication to first swimming and then to the cause of advocating for women’s rights inspirational,” said Rheanna Mulvaney, senior psychology major. “I could tell her past commitment to hard work showed through her vast accomplishments and her speaking to those who disagree with her stances.”
“This convocation provided families and students with an explanation of the facts,” said Davis Garrison, junior criminal justice major. “For years we have heard back and forth a lot about the transgender movement, and a lot of it sounds very confusing to most of us. Riley portrayed part of the transgender movement in an easy way for families, students and even younger children to understand.”
More about Family Weekend
Family Weekend took place Oct. 7-8, and gave students and families a chance to make lifelong memories on the College campus. Families visited dorm rooms, enjoyed a barbeque provided by the College, and attended numerous sporting events throughout the first day. The first evening ended with live music, smores, and a drawing for prizes. The second day, students and their families attended chapel in the morning, then heard from Gaines in the afternoon. After the convocation, families enjoyed their last few hours on the campus through a photo line with Gaines and one more chance to walk around campus before saying good bye.
For additional information, contact public relations director Valorie Coleman at 417-690-2212.
To learn more about Riley Gaines, please visit https://www.rileygaines.com/ or https://rileygainescenter.org/about/ .