Collaborating over the summer with the athletics department, Division of Student Life and track and field alumna Naji Thompson '19, Marcus Witherspoon '20 laid out a blueprint for a student-athlete peer-mentoring program and the student group that would run it. The result was the new Athletes of Color Coalition (ACC). Its first meeting, led by current students, was on Sept. 3. Following the lead of Thompson and Witherspoon, Bryce Baylor '22, a running back on the Red Devil football team, and Nigel Woodroffe '23, a member of the men's soccer program, took on the primary leadership roles as the inaugural president and vice president of the organization.
Since that first meeting in September, the organization has made great strides and continues to grow and develop. It has evolved, adding new focus and ideas, and has expanded to six current student-athletes serving on the leadership board. Joining Baylor and Woodroffe is men's soccer player Max Matsumoto '21, Christina Chu '22 and Hanna Riley '22 from women's volleyball, and Ashleigh Violette '22 from the women's soccer program.
One of the foundations of the ACC was to provide a safe environment for athletes of color to share experiences, both at Dickinson and throughout their lives. The group hoped to offer an environment that showed others they were not alone and be a resource to help navigate the challenges that many before them have faced as well.
In the beginning, the organizers were originally looking to find its niche and establish an identity on campus. In the early stages it became apparent that the group could greatly benefit from developing an intimate setting, creating a place that would make people feel comfortable to engage in discussion and the confidence to speak out.
They felt it would be important to create this intimate and welcoming atmosphere while also establishing a strong level of professionalism at the same time. They also began to see more of a bigger picture and how they could have more of an impact, both on campus and beyond.
It became very clear early on as well that one of the goals of the organization should be to focus on building relationships. They looked to build strong relationships both within, and outside the ACC, reaching out to other established groups on campus. They started to contact people on campus to make others aware of the group and offer their assistance by simply being there to represent the ACC, acting as a resource for students and to provide support to those organizations.
As the ACC began to take shape, conversations led to the conclusion that an expanded board would only strengthen the scope and depth of the organization and provide greater outreach among the athletic and campus community. The result was a leadership structure that showed a desire to have strong gender and racial equity. Baylor made the comment that it was a logical move forward and that they wanted to, "Practice what we were preaching." The group was about inclusion and creating a board that demonstrated diversity in gender and race, as well as sport representation, would only make for a stronger foundation.
They believed that having balance on the board would also increase the comfort level for individuals that may be hesitant to join or even just ask questions or to share feelings they may have. Seeing someone in a leadership role that they could closely relate to may give them the confidence they need to reach out. In addition, the ACC has developed a mentoring system in which those board members and other upperclassmen work with smaller groups, believing that could encourage more engagement for those who didn't feel comfortable in front of the entire coalition.
The hope is that some of these individuals would then become mentors to incoming first-year students and other students they may have a connection with. Having a strong support network that will continue to grow, the group wants to instill confidence and let people know they do not need to feel alone. Its ok to speak up and speak out and have that confidence to step out of their comfort zone.
Shortly after the ACC was established, the board was excited to discover that there were similar groups on other campuses and specifically at schools in the Centennial Conference. Baylor was featured in a student-athlete spotlight by Amber Thomas, the conference's Coordinator of Sports Administration and Championships. That led to a conversation about the schools in the Centennial, some of which have been in existence for a few years and could share ideas and provide some guidance.
Baylor and Woodroffe expressed much appreciation for the collaborative support they received from Amber and the conference office. Amber facilitated a meeting among members from the other conference schools and the board at Dickinson. There was great discussion and sharing of ideas and experiences. Leaders spoke about how they started out small and now make a major impact on their campuses and communities.
One of the first initiatives that the ACC worked on was a campaign to encourage individuals to make sure they were properly registered and to make sure their voice was heard by voting in the 2020 elections. They provided resources to help determine if people were registered, how and where to vote and how to receive an absentee ballot if they needed one.
The group also reached out to members of the coaching staff and had some quality discussions, including topics about the biases of recruiting, how prospective student-athletes are recruited and what areas and programs they are being recruited from.
The group at Dickinson currently has about 50 active members and a strong following on Instagram, their primary social media outlet. They continue to work to increase those numbers, their reach, and their impact. They have been well received by alumni, many who have shown an eagerness to help and be a resource. They have created connections with linked-in groups and offered to be available for students who are interested in specific fields or are seeking professional advice. The ACC has presented a series of alumni spotlights and will continue to produce new features that can be found on their Instagram page.
The ACC has monthly meetings and encourages new membership, support and information to anyone looking to learn more. To find out more about the Athletes of Color Coalition at Dickinson, you can follow them on Instagram at dickinson.acc.
Bryce Baylor Joins RDSN's Speak of the Devil (starts at 9:50 in)