Break the mold

Five months after George Floyd’s death, national movements have come and gone — Quinnipiac aims to change the trend

Riley Millette, Sports Editor

A popular word in media lately has been “change.”

Journals, news outlets and papers across the country have been preaching the importance of change in order to rework the fabric of our country ever since the Black Lives Matter movement returned to mainstream media after a police officer murdered George Floyd.

However, change is best ignited at the local level, not national. Without the cataclysmic actions of those in the community, progress wouldn’t be anywhere near where it should be. That’s where Quinnipiac University wants to start.

Quinnipiac started the Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) Committee to begin this local change. The committee’s goal is to “engage the athletic department staff and student-athletes in social justice initiatives,” according to an announcement made on Quinnipiac’s athletics website.

Volleyball head coach Kyle Robinson is excited to be a part of the DEI Committee, which seeks to educate Quinnipiac about racial injustice. (Courtesy of QU Athletics)

“I think our main goals are to support on-campus initiatives and opportunities, and to create programming and education for our student-athletes, staff and coaches,” said Kristen Casamento, senior assistant athletic director for academic support and chairperson of the committee. “And third, create policy that has inclusive excellence for the future to really empower them to use their voices in the most important way.”

The committee is composed of several Quinnipiac coaches and athletic figures, including volleyball head coach Kyle Robinson, field hockey head coach Becca Main and men’s soccer head coach Eric Da Costa.

There are other programs with similar goals at the university such as Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) United for Justice that both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have partnered with. But the DEI Committee is aimed toward all of the school’s athletics and wants to have a significant impact on the Quinnipiac culture and beyond.

“You’re a part of change, you’re a part of something that’s big,” Robinson said. “When asked to be a part of something big and important, for me it’s important to jump at the call, especially when it’s something I believe in, something I’m passionate about.”

Main corroborated that the necessity for groups like the DEI Committee are increasing.

“This is an epic time for change and to address social injustices, so obviously to be a part of that for me was a no-brainer,” Main said. “To be able to get on a call with my colleagues on any topic is fantastic, but to be able to do it for something like a DEI Committee is extra special, because you’re learning about DEI from different vantage points, which is what the purpose is.”

Robinson said that this committee has been needed in the Quinnipiac community, and this new group creates an opportunity for Bobcats in the athletic community to engage in tough conversations.

“These are things that are generally discussed at home around a campfire in privacy,” Robinson said. “Now, we get to really discuss them with each other. I think it’s cool that I’m a part of this small group that we’re all representing this athletic community, and I can’t imagine a much better group than what we have.”

The committee plans on having these conversations over winter break, as well as bringing in a professional to train everyone in the athletic department during the spring semester. Main said that having these conversations is the beginning of the long process.

“The first piece of this is education, and it should always be an ongoing piece of education,” Main said. “Educating yourself on what the community needs, what’s around you, what the student-athletes need, and that’s been really good.”

Since there are other organizations similar to this around campus, the DEI Committee is hoping to collaborate with them and create a more welcoming environment.

“Obviously we have DEI committees going on on campus in other areas, both in our student government and other activities, so why wouldn’t we link up with each other?” Main said. “I just got to participate in the George Floyd family discussion that was hosted by five different groups.”

The event that Main is referencing was a recent webinar where Floyd’s aunt and uncle answered questions with Quinnipiac community members. Minister and activist Nyle Fort moderated the event, and his words had an impact on Casamento.

“Nyle talked about ‘educate, agitate and organize,’” Casamento said. “The people that can agitate and organize with the most power are students, and student athletes already have a great platform as leaders on the campus. They have the ideas, they have the ability to create change because this is their institution.”

Women’s basketball senior guard Vanessa Udoji will serve on the DEI Committee as a student-athlete co-leader. Casamento   emphasized the necessity of a student facet to the group, and Udoji was happy to be a part of it.

  “As a black student-athlete it allows me to be able to use my voice both on and off the court,” Udoji said. “I believe that in this role it is my responsibility to be a voice for student-athletes of color so that they know they are being heard and supported on campus.”

Udoji said that the steps the committee is taking are important and that the campus will benefit from having an outlet to talk about racism.

“As a student-athlete there are times we may be afraid to use our voices when it comes to uncomfortable conversations regarding topics like racism, oppression, educational inequality,” Udoji said. “I think that it is important that we’ve created this committee to normalize having these types of conversations on campus.”

Senior guard Vanessa Udoji will serve as a co-leader for student athletes on the DEI Committee. (Chronicle Archives (2017))

The athletics department’s diversity is a major contributor to how well the DEI Committee is able to accelerate change across campus. Having a wide array of backgrounds, nationalities and ethnicities is essential to having a campus where equity is prioritized.

Main is happy to be a part of a department that equally represents all walks of life .

“We all have very different makeups of our teams, and our sports are known for different reasons,” Main said. “There are so many different departments and our coaches do really reflect that, so it’s a really wonderful experience to sit on a call and talk about events, activities, what’s most important. I just love getting the perspective of other people.”

Since Floyd’s death, it’s been a difficult road to traverse. There are a lot of factors getting in the way of instituting real change that fixes the issues of racial inequality and police brutality.

But local change is one of the most important ways to introduce important values on a national scale. Robinson is happy to see Quinnipiac take these steps.

“I wanna see us improve,” Robinson said. “I wanna see us try to be the most badass university in the country, as a place where a young person or anyone can go for higher education.”