CPP’s athletics department is leveling the playing field by forming a racial equity subcommittee that will host open discussions concerning race-related issues within the department as well as throughout the community. As a subcommittee within the university’s Inclusive Excellence Council, it will seek to apply justice to an unbalanced system and identify areas of discrimination that require immediate change.
The committee was founded by several of CPP’s Black coaches, including Damion Hill, Joseph Blue, ZsaZsa Lawson, Chase Sanders and Darrell Smith. Their goal is to give students and faculty a safe space to discuss their concerns as well as educate one another on the issues that oppress them. Their plan revolves around hosting monthly webinars and online workshops through Zoom that’ll be free and open to the public.
Each meeting’s subject matter will vary month-to-month, but will always trace back to issues surrounding race. The webinars feature guest speakers from the CPP community, such as professors and University Police Chief Dario Robinson. Those attending the meetings will have the opportunity to learn from the speakers and have an open floor to ask them any questions.
“The committee’s meetings aren’t for students to just let out
their frustrations, because otherwise you’re just yelling and throwing a fit,” said Darrell Smith, assistant track and field coach. He explained, “It’s about getting students involved and hearing different perspectives. Learn to respect people’s position and opinion.”
ZsaZsa Lawson, women’s basketball coach, credits the downtime gained from virtual instruction as the reason the department had an opportunity to address some of the social issues concerning students, staff and faculty. “The focus is on the students, but we’ve also got to look at ourselves, and ask ‘How do I feel about this?’” said Lawson. “I was feeling triggered and traumatized at what we were seeing.”
What the nation saw were several viral videos on social media of Black men and women, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, lose their lives because of police brutality.
“It was important to us after watching those shocking videos that we made sure to have extensive conversations about race. We needed to talk about how it plays a part in everyday life. Address it, talk about it and make sense of it to the public,” said Smith.
The student-athletes on the committee are making strides in discussing polarizing topics that are difficult for some people to talk about. “Being on this committee is so important, especially in the wake of all the social injustices going on in the world,” said Nia Vance, a senior hurdler and jumper for women’s track and field. “It’s really a testament of the makeup of our athletic department to see how individuals devote their time, abilities, and leadership to an area that is oftentimes overlooked.”
This month, the committee is hosting a workshop and seminar about voting, the first of three scheduled meetings on this topic. They’ll be discussing the significance of voting, as well as the history behind the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“It’s not only focused on this upcoming presidential election, but the goal is to get students engaged in voting locally,” said Lawson. “Knowing what’s going on in their own backyard.”
Race is a complicated, emotional and nuanced topic for many. According to the organizers, it’s important that not only minorities, but everyone feels comfortable enough to have the conversation. “I could easily have just sat back at home and checked on how everyone was doing, but I wanted to actually do something,” said Smith. “I decided what I could do was lend my voice, which would give a platform for others to use theirs.”
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