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Washington and Lee University student-athletes.
Washington and Lee University student-athletes are making a difference off the fields and courts with a program designed to promote healthy lifestyles within a united student-athlete community.
“23” is a rework of a former student-athlete mentor program at Washington and Lee. It was developed after student-athletes and other athletics department officials attended last year’s APPLE Conference at the University of Virginia.
“23 has incredible versatility, since it promotes healthy lifestyles and other positive things in a student-athlete’s life on the field, in the classroom and in the social scene,” said junior lacrosse player Lauren Acker, who serves as student chair of the group.
She said the program was prompted by understanding that despite the high number of varsity sports on campus, there wasn’t as much interaction and camaraderie among those teams desired.
“As student-athletes,” Acker said, “we must all look out for each other, just as we would a teammate. It is important to transcend our teams’ boundaries to build an even larger support base as we pursue our athletics and academic goals.”
The organization’s goals are to develop and strengthen a sense of responsibility and wellness through risk reduction and bystander intervention. To create a safer social environment for student-athletes at Washington and Lee, “23” strives to address substance abuse, sexual misconduct, nutrition and stress management. The program resembles those begun at other colleges and universities, such as the Step Up initiative at the University of Arizona.
“Student-athletes here – as is the case at many schools – compose a large group, and many of them sort of know who each other are, but they don’t really know each other,” said Washington and Lee Athletics Director Jan Hathorn. “The conversation on our campus about social issues, which includes anything from alcohol and drug use to what students do with their free time, is a recurring discussion.
“Student-athletes can have a different perspective on these issues because some of their free time is eaten up by their choice to participate in a sport. Sometimes that is an advantage, but the disadvantage is that they don’t always know each other as well as they could or would like to. So we wanted to breathe new life into a system that was competent but needed new energy and a new focus.”
Hathorn said the effort also was influenced by last year’s tragedy at Virginia, where a women’s lacrosse player was killed, allegedly by her boyfriend who was also a lacrosse student-athlete.
“Student-athletes here were very affected because there’s a lot of similarity and interaction between our campuses. So, yes, in some ways, that incident was a factor in this initiative,” Hathorn said.
Acker said the student-athlete population at Washington and Lee represents about 25 percent of the student body.
“We’re not just student-athletes here, but we are all involved in so many other facets of life at Washington and Lee,” Acker said. “For people to see us develop these sorts of initiatives and stand up and say hey, that’s not right – let me help you fix this, or let’s find another solution – that can be infectious throughout the campus. It only takes one or two people to stand up and make the initial move toward stopping something or changing the direction an event is going for people to agree that it should change.”
Hathorn, who coached women’s lacrosse at Washington and Lee for 19 seasons and women’s soccer for 14 years before becoming the AD there, said administrators and student-athletes alike wanted to make “23” as unique as its name.
“We didn’t just want to hand out another piece of paper about alcohol statistics,” she said. “We felt like this was a new way to teach people that they can be of help to somebody who’s in a situation that’s going downhill.
“Student-athlete health and well-being is the focus in all that we do as athletics administrators here at Washington and Lee. After all the years I coached here and tried to be of assistance to those kids who struggled with these kinds of issues – I was more than ready and able to put some emphasis and authority behind this new effort to make it go, and be committed to it for as long as we can.”
Though the program has just begun, Acker said she already sees evidence of its effect. Among the first initiatives was to show all of the student-athletes the movie “Haze,” which is about bystander intervention. By word of mouth, other campus groups have learned of its value and are showing that film to their constituents, too.
“23” also organized a student-athlete picnic and has distributed T-Shirts to identify athletes as a group on campus, Acker said.
“This has taken a lot of energy,” Acker said. “In the spring when we were developing everything, I didn’t realize how much time and effort it would take, but I feel that it’s entirely worthwhile. I wouldn’t change anything about it.”