POC Athlete Brunch: Making space for athletes of color

Jazz Henry (senior) in the Academic Quad at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 28, 2023. Max Eve/The Occidental

Being an athlete is never easy — sports typically require high physical demands, and mental and emotional demands are also just as important. Adding the burden of being an athlete of color in a white-dominated sport, or even at a predominantly white institution (PWI) does not make it any easier, yet student athletes Dylan Herbert* (sophomore) and Jazz Henry (senior) are taking the initiative to create spaces for athletes of color.

The Person/People of Color (POC) Athlete Brunch was held in the Intercultural Community Center (ICC) March 25. Student organizers Herbert and Henry said they worked closely with organizations like Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) and Oxy Athletics to plan it. According to Herbert and Henry, the event was an intentional space to introduce and facilitate dialogue and community among athletes of color across all disciplines.

“I know that recruiting for each sport is completely different,” Henry said. “I’m not saying that something can solve this. I just think that a part of being at a PWI is having to navigate white spaces, and being on a sports team is something that can be challenging in terms of navigating that dynamic.”

Herbert and Henry said the intentions of the brunch were mainly to bring the community together and make connections with others over their similar — and different — experiences as student-athletes of color at Occidental.

“I was thinking about wanting to meet more POC athletes and trying to build a community around that to strengthen the bonds that we all have on campus,” Herbert said.

Herbert, who is a member of the lacrosse team, said she brought up the idea with ICC worker and Occidental alumni Katrina Weti, who connected Herbert to Henry, who has been working at the ICC as an equity ambassador since he was a first year at Oxy. The pair worked together on the event and decided the ICC would be the space to give the athletes a sense of community.

“The ICC would be the best place because that’s also another space that’s made on campus for people that I don’t think everyone uses,” Herbert said. “I think bringing the athletes to the ICC was really important.”

Herbert also said one of her own goals was to try and get a large first-year presence at the brunch, especially first years on white-dominated teams.

“I think it [being an athlete of color] can feel really isolating, and you might not even know it until you surround yourself with other POC athletes,” Herbert said. “I think [we should be] more aggressive about that, and really making sure that there’s a space for all ages, obviously, but especially the underclassmen.”

Dylan Herbert (sophomore) in the Academic Quad at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 28, 2023. Max Eve/The Occidental

The event itself was very intimate, according to Henry, and not everyone who RSVP’d was able to show up, but this allowed for the students there to really connect and get to know each other. Henry said the brunch also allowed the students to ask each other questions and to engage in dialogue with one another and shared some examples.

“What does diversity look like in your sport? How does it feel to be a person of color playing this sport? Do you feel heard by your teammates or coaches, like do you feel seen by your teachers,” Henry said.

According to Henry and Herbert, the students also brought up the topic of recruiting, specifically for DIII schools, and how that process can be difficult for athletes of color. Henry and Herbert said they reflected on their own experiences on high school teams before Occidental, and how their individual experiences had either been drastically different or similar to their experience as collegiate athletes.

“My high school team was probably 50 percent Black people … I didn’t have the diversity in club, I didn’t have it playing in the summers, but I got to have it in high school, which I think was really nice,” Herbert said. “I was super grateful for trying to build a healthier relationship between [myself and] the sport that I love that was created by people that look like me.”

Henry said he specifically touched on his own experience as a student-athlete and he is always excited to see a diverse group of students joining the soccer team. Herbert said she described her own experience as a woman of color playing on a majority white team, and how this experience had been very different from her high school years.

Water polo player and JEDI committee member Kayla Lin (senior) said hearing other athletes’ experiences during discussions at the brunch was very valuable to her.

“I think not only does that help with building that community of being a person of color and an athlete, obviously, and building that community, I think it also helps you be a better human being [and] to be able to hear other people’s experiences and know that there are there are other things than your own,” Lin said.

Lin said her experience as an athlete of color on a white-dominated team has made her aware of the diversity of other teams she plays against, and how there is pride in playing with more athletes of color.

“I catch myself too when I play other teams, and [I think], ‘there’s some other people of color on that starting line, like, hell yeah,’ you know,” Lin said.

Kayla Lin (senior) in the Academic Quad at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 31, 2023. Max Eve/The Occidental

As a JEDI committee member, Lin said the JEDI meetings are making more impact this year as more coaches and teams start implementing proper time and energy to facilitate these conversations.

“Even this year, a lot of people [said they’re] having all of [their] conversations. Women’s water polo [has] them every week [and] we had ours twice a week,” Lin said. “Specifically, I think it really helps further solidify our culture and who we are as a team, and how important that is to how we play and how we interact with each other [and] the world.”

Both Herbert and Henry expressed their interest in seeing POC Athlete Brunch occur again, and are both excited about the future of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within Oxy Athletics.

“I would like for it to happen, maybe twice a semester would be really awesome. Once at the beginning [and] once at the end, but definitely once a semester at least,” Henry said.

While this brunch might have been small in numbers, the outcome of bringing more students together and holding that space is really important for Herbert.

“It was definitely worth it. And so that’s why I’m really excited to potentially get more people because if just two people made me feel really excited. I can’t wait to see if I can get more people,” Herbert said.

These kinds of spaces do not exist for many different communities within Oxy Athletics. In addition to creating spaces for athletes of color, there is so much diversity among the athletes at Occidental that also would benefit from this kind of community building, Henry said.

“This space was for athletes of color but there are a lot of other identities within athletics, like queer identifying athletes, and I think that [Oxy Athletics should] be able to have events that hold space [for them] as well,” Henry said. “Maybe before I leave, I could have a meeting with them [JEDI] to talk to them about it. I hope they would love to be involved.”

Contact Sela Dingpontsawa at dingpontsawa@oxy.edu.

*Dylan Herbert works for The Occidental as a layout editor and illustrator.


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