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“Winning Together” confronts issues of race in athletics

May 5, 2017

Ann Basu
WORKING AS ONE: Associate Professor of Africana Studies Judith Casselberry participates in a Q&A panel at the Athletic Department’s “Winning Together: Intersections between Race and Athletics” event that looked to shed light on the unique experiences of athletes of color.

On Monday, the Athletic Department held an event called “Winning Together: Intersections between Race and Athletics” that invited students and professors, athletes and non-athletes, to engage in conversations about the role that race plays on Bowdoin’s athletic teams.

The event was divided into three sections, where attendees had the opportunity to participate in a Q&A panel, hear personal anecdotes from several of Bowdoin’s athletes of color and break into small groups to cultivate more personal dialogues.

“I think the biggest goal [of the event] was to have this conversation and really expose people to the issues that students of color on campus face,” said event organizer and softball captain Marisa O’Toole ’17. “[Since] our athletic community is so big on campus and so many students are involved in sports … we really wanted to [invite] people from every team … who could really absorb this [discussion’s content], engage with it, discuss it, be shocked, be surprised and be moved to have these conversations more.”

Topics examined at “Winning Together” ranged from white fragility and white spaces to what it means to be an ally. Associate Professor of Africana Studies Judith Casselberry and Assistant Professor of Sociology Theo Greene touched on these subjects and many more, including how to take the information and lessons learned from the discussion back to Bowdoin teams in order to continue promoting conversations about race on campus.

Track and field member Amani Hite ’20 was encouraged to speak at the event after sharing her story with her fellow members of Bowdoin’s Athletes Of Color group. Although most of the other stories shared at the event were anonymous, Hite shared her story herself.

“I decided to not go anonymous because I thought it would make it more original and raw if you heard my story and where I come from, just the challenges that I faced myself,” said Hite.

When asked about her plans for facilitating conversations about race after sharing her story at Winning Together, Hite said that she plans on being more open to answering her teammates’ questions about race to make sure they are educated on the issue.

“We all have some [ignorance] in us, but it’s not until you actually open yourself up and ask questions and attempt to educate yourself about things that you don’t know that you are actually able to see change happen,” said Hite.

Hite also said that she hopes to use these discussions to improve team dynamics and strengthen the bonds among her teammates.

Hite’s story made an impact on Sam Edwards-Kuhn ’20, who said that he found her story incredibly powerful and thought-provoking. Although Edwards-Kuhn is neither a Bowdoin athlete nor a student of color, he emphasized the need for white students to attempt to place themselves in the shoes of their non-white peers.

“I definitely got some perspectives that I haven’t heard. Just talking about how you stick out and what a white person takes for granted, it’s really hard to put yourself in that person’s shoes as the only person of color on the team,” said Edwards-Kuhn. “I think that just the general sense of being able to talk to friends who are going through these issues, increasing your ability to talk about guilt—not even that just being able to connect with them more and being able to understand it’s not your own understanding, it’s theirs.”

O’Toole agreed that these narratives allow other students and athletes to recognize the unique challenges that face certain members of Bowdoin’s community.

“I think that it was really important to have those stories unearthed … The idea is that once they’re unearthed you… really take [them] to heart and think critically about what happens every day here, and what we do in small ways that could contribute to [someone’s] struggle,” said O’Toole.

Although she will be graduating this spring, O’Toole is hopeful about Bowdoin students continuing this discussion.

“We really just wanted to make sure that this event didn’t just happen one time last year and then not be continued,” she said. “It’s just way too important to only happen one time. And even one time a year, I’d like to see it more frequently than one big event, so hopefully in the future that can happen.”

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