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Student-athletes gain insight on activism through Athletes Using Their Power series

Leadership development program teaches ways to maximize impact

Leadership development’s Athletes Using Their Power series has given student-athletes a better understanding of how to use their voice and presence when addressing social injustices and other important topics in intercollegiate athletics.

Student-athlete activism has become more prevalent due to recent national events. Athletes and administrators continue to seek best practices for implementing programs and opening conversations on campus. Athletes Using Their Power, also called A4, has given student-athletes different perspectives on how to be more impactful and enact meaningful change, while allowing them to ask questions about experiences they’ve had.

“We decided to create a space where we could provide growth opportunities around activism and foster connection within the student-athlete population, so we developed the Athletes Using Their Power series,” said Marissa Robinson, assistant director of leadership development. 

“Leadership development is dedicated to educating and empowering these student-athletes, and we wanted to find a way to serve them during these difficult times, too. The past few months have been challenging, with student-athletes navigating the loss of their playing seasons, as well as turbulence in society. We believe the Athletes Using Their Power programming is a resource that allows student-athletes to understand that their power and voice are as important off the field of competition as they are on it,” Robinson said.

Through the four-part series created this summer, student-athletes engaged with peers, discussed real-time situations and were prepared to become more effective and thoughtful leaders, with the ultimate aim of cultivating more inclusivity in their surroundings. 

The series also sought to give student-athletes a better understanding of how they could have transformative experiences that would impact their teams and teammates. The sessions — addressing difficult conversations, activism for the student-athlete, allyship best practices and action sustainability — focused on helping athletes identify opportunities, while also giving them action ideas to implement change. Athletes learned how to open the door to having conversations around race, which may be uncomfortable for some individuals who haven’t experienced racial bias. They also talked about different types of expression or activism, which includes things they hear about on the national news front, while other topics centered around things that interest them personally. The athletes also discussed the definition of allyship and how they could be allies to their teammates. Each session provided the student-athletes with an opportunity to discuss issues in chatrooms and to ask panelists specific questions.

A4’s recorded programming and resources also were a tool for athletics administrators that allowed them the opportunity to better understand their athletes’ needs and to support them, listen to concerns they may have and help them act when change is necessary. Panelists were NCAA staff, college and university officials and subject matter experts on inclusivity and activism.

“The A4 program was a powerful discussion that helped me to understand the power of vulnerability when having courageous conversations,” said Brenton Duvall, a track and field student-athlete at Christopher Newport. “I learned about the four crucial elements of trust (truth, transparency, tact, togetherness) and gained a deeper understanding of what privilege is. From this program, I am confident to move forward in starting conversations about race, my personal experiences and others’ experiences. I enjoyed the communication between other athletes, as well as the speakers in a candid and open manner,” Duvall said.

Recorded videos from the four A4 sessions will be available in September on leadership development’s webpage here.

“This is a program that we hope helps student-athletes understand the magnitude of their voice for positive change around issues that are important to them,” said DeeDee Merritt, director of leadership development.

“The timing was perfect, as there has been a lot of discussion going on in sports, as well as within the country, on social change. The hope is the sessions will have empowered student-athletes to use their voice to create change within their team, on their campus and within their communities. We have to embrace student-athletes and the athletic community with programming that they can use today as well as when we rise out of these challenging times, and Athletes Using Their Power helps in that respect,” Merritt said.