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by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
It's not easy to balance the demands of classroom and field when you’re a first-year or transfer student-athlete far from home and your longtime support system. It’s even more challenging when you’re a student-athlete of color, already grappling with this time of racial reckoning in America—particularly when the fellow students you spend the most time with are your teammates, and nearly all of them are white.
“As student-athletes, we’re students first, but athletics are an important part of our collective identity,” says Marcus Witherspoon '20, an alumnus of Dickinson's football program who took time to reflect on the specific needs of Black and Brown student-athletes during the COVID-19 lockdown. “So it’s important to have a space to meet with other student-athletes who look like you and understand.”
Collaborating over the summer with the athletics department, Division of Student Life and track and field alumna Naji Thompson'19, Witherspoon laid out a blueprint for a student-athlete peer-mentoring program and the student group that would run it. The result is the new Athletes of Color Coalition. Its first meeting, led by current students, was on Sept. 3.
The student-led coalition is a resource and space for connection and belonging for all student-athletes of color, bringing together members from different Red Devil teams—currently through virtual meetings and eventually through on-campus mixers and other events. This widens members’ support systems and provides a framework for them to collaborate on initiatives of interest.
A key mission: providing training and oversight for a new peer-mentor program for student-athletes of color. Like the first-year program (for all first-years and transfer students) and the ACE program (for historically underrepresented students), this athletics-centered program will provide training and a framework for experienced Black and Brown student-athletes to help new student-athletes find community and voice and learn about resources available to them on campus that can help them make the most of their college experience.
The group hopes to one day get alumni of color involved for networking, mentorship and community. For now, Witherspoon says he’s proud to see current students working together to establish first steps, and he’s encouraged by the response he’s witnessed across campus from students like Bryce Baylor ’22 (economics), the club’s first president; Nigel Woodroffe ’23 (undeclared), vice president; Ashleigh Violette '22 (international business & management), secretary; and Christina Chu '22 (educational studies, sociology) and Hanna Riley 22 (undeclared), community outreach coordinators.
“I love Dickinson, and I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything, so I am glad to be able to see this taking shape,” says Witherspoon. “The world needs to do better, and if there’s an area in which you can make a change, you gotta start there.”
The coalition’s first vice president agrees.
“I am very excited about this coalition. We have an exceptional group of intelligent, caring people,” Woodroffe says. “This is a great step for the college, and I can’t wait for what’s to come.”
Published October 6, 2020