POC Athlete movement demands diversity and inclusion in athletics

PHOTO BY MICHELLE WONG ‘19 | LAYOUT EDITOR  POC athletes make moves for diversity and inclusion in student athletics at Smith.

PHOTO BY MICHELLE WONG ‘19 | LAYOUT EDITOR

POC athletes make moves for diversity and inclusion in student athletics at Smith.

Michelle Wong | Layout Editor

A group of 65, comprised of student athletes who identify as POC and their allies, are bringing attention to their experiences of lack of diversity and inclusion on athletic teams at the college.

Led by senior Kennedy Barber-Fraser and junior Anna Freund, on Monday, Oct. 22, the group wore bright pink shirts that said “RESPECT US” on the front and “POC ATHLETE” on the back with a unique number, highlighting the number of POC athletes on each athletic team. “When people count 1, 2, 3, they realize that there are only that many POC athletes on the team,” Barber-Fraser said.

The athletes also wore ribbons to designate which teams they were on. Members of the basketball team wore red, crew wore white, cross country wore light green, field hockey wore light blue, lacrosse wore pink, softball wore purple, swimming & diving wore yellow, tennis wore orange, track & field wore dark green and volleyball wore dark blue.

Other students wore shirts with the words “RESPECT THEM” on the front and “ALLY” on the back. Former student athletes wore pins saying “I left... #isupportpocathletes #diversifysmithathletics.”  

Barber-Fraser and Freund began organizing the movement earlier this year in September, expressing that they ultimately decided to take action after feeling exhausted from consecutive years of the same treatment. “We noticed that our team didn’t seem to be changing, and enough was enough. We asked, how can we go about this in a way by igniting a conversation that is meant to be positive and bringing more attention, but calling people in, and doesn’t allow people to step out of the conversation?” Barber-Fraser said.

Barber-Fraser described the current tensions stemming from race. “Crew is very socially segregated, and microaggressions are an everyday thing. We have had white people refuse to row when a POC coxswain tells them to,” she said. “In discussions on race, people always say, ‘Oh, this doesn't affect me,’ or ‘I don't have an opinion on this,’ and this has been going on for years.”

The organizing group has prepared a list of demands for specific members of the Smith community, presenting them with actionable items that are intended to increase inclusion and racial diversity within the athletic community. They are pressing for the recruitment of athletes from more diverse locations, at least one full-time employee working as a multicultural liaison for each team, more coaching staff of color and for coaching staff to prioritize creating a more inclusive team environment.

“We have specific demands in place for what we want. We want a multicultural liaison of color, educated about race and dynamics between people, and for them to rotate amongst teams and get to know team dynamics and facilitate these conversations about inclusion better. We want more recruitment from more diverse locations for our athletes, different class backgrounds and a wider range of diversity on our teams.”

“This is not only a problem for our coaches. We want our teammates to be respectful of us, too. If our team environment is still exclusive, then POCs are not going to want to stay and that would waste all of our energy and time. This is not about ‘progress’, it’s about ‘let’s do this together now, because we can be accountable for all of these things’,” Barber-Fraser said.

Barber-Fraser expressed that this is just the beginning of the movement and that she will be planning further events to strengthen the POC athlete community. “Three years ago, a POC graduate started POC dinners, but Veronica Morales, Anna and I made it more of a priority for the POC athletes on the crew team. In the future, we are hoping to have POC-wide athletic dinners once a month to check in on each other,” Barber-Fraser said.

Barber-Fraser expressed the importance of this movement. “Our identity of being athletes is super important to us, but so is our race and socioeconomic background,” she said.  “Those are things that I can’t just check at the door for practice; those are things that I carry with me as a coxswain. While we love our team, and love our teammates, we didn’t sign up to participate in things that are not inclusive to us. As we put our best foot forward everyday, our race and our background needs to be prioritized as much as our identity as athletes, because you just want to be in a place where you are loved and respected every day.”