This past fall, a number student-athletes of color from Wesleyan were named to All-NESCAC teams based on their stellar athletic performances. Among these athletes are football players Ashton Scott ’22, David Estevez ’22, Danny Banks ’22, Nick Richards ’20; volleyball player Kaira Muraoka-Robertson ’20; field hockey player Olivia Baglieri ’22; and soccer player Mackenzie Mitchell ’20.
In a series of articles, and with the help of the Student-Athletes of Color Leadership Council, The Argus will highlight different student-athletes of color, exploring aspects of their lives, identities, and sports performances.
In this first installment of the series, the Argus will focus on the Student-Athletes of Color Leadership Council, and later delve into the identities and experiences of last fall’s All-NESCAC student-athletes of color.
“The Student-Athletes of Color Leadership Council is a group of POC student athletes from all years and a variety of Varsity sports that focuses on issues related to diversity and inclusion within Freeman Athletic Center,” Mitchell, president of the Council, said. “Our three main goals are to serve as a support system for those athletes who compete on teams without much diversity, to work with the administration to further diversify the Wesleyan athletic program, and to enhance the athletic experience of student-athletes of color. To accomplish those objectives, the Council focuses on initiatives with the intention of creating a system that establishes a social network amongst athletes of color, promotes unity, and encourages discourse, in an effort to alleviate the disadvantages associated with being an athlete of color.”
Mitchell, a defender on the women’s soccer team, stressed the importance of the Council’s presence.
“The Council’s work should be highlighted because many of our efforts are centered around community-building and betterment of the athletics department, whose equitable success is important to the larger Wesleyan community,” Mitchell said. “POC athletes have a unique Wesleyan story to tell, and it is important to provide a platform to share their accomplishments and let their voice be heard.”
Richards shared Mitchell’s feelings.
“It’s something unique,” Richards, a defensive lineman, said. “Not a lot of schools do it. A lot of schools lack voices of diversity and emphasize diversity for the wrong reasons. The Council is a good platform to address diversity in a positive way.”
The Council is led by assistant football coach Sean Stanley. Stanley, a defensive line coach and run game coach coordinator, has had a big impact on athletes involved with the Council.
“He’s a great resource to everyone on campus,” Richards said. “I have a special relationship with him…he’s led a lot of great things at Wesleyan.”
For some athletes of color, the Council has been instrumental in helping them to develop their sense of identity on campus.
“Becoming a part of this council has helped me to realize the importance of embracing all parts of your identity,” Mitchell said. “Just because the space you occupy now doesn’t appear to provide opportunity for all parts of your character, doesn’t mean you can’t make room for those parts to shine. The Council provides the ability to weave two pillars of my identity, being POC and a student athlete, into one community and greater effort; relinquishing the need to sacrifice one for the other.”
Scott, a quarterback on the football team, gravitated toward the Council in part due to his high school experience.
“Coming from a high school that wasn’t full of diversity, it’s great knowing you have support from other people in similar situations and backgrounds,” Scott said.
Muraoka-Robertson, who was named a DIII All-American volleyball player in 2018, had a similar experience to Scott’s.
“I absolutely considered diversity when coming to Wesleyan,” Muraoka-Roberston said. “Lots of people on the [volleyball] team have different pasts with different experiences and it was hard to assimilate…. I know one of my teammates is on the Council, so I went to a meeting to check it out.”
Cornerback Banks shares elements of Muraoka-Roberston’s feelings regarding diversity on sports teams.
“My view of myself has changed a lot because going from high school, you had a smaller number of minorities,” Banks said. “Now, coming here [to Wesleyan], you see a bunch more people who look like you…it’s a good experience. The football team really is a brotherhood, and being a student-athlete of color is a big deal to me. It feels like you haven’t been seen, and now you finally are. A lot of guys have that on the football team. That team culture is attractive.”
Richards, a teammate of Scott’s, had a different high school experience.
“My football team in high school was demographically majority Black,” Richards said. “Playing for different teams with varying levels of diversity taught me how to interact with different groups and people.”
Each of this year’s fall All-NESCAC athletes of color described the hardships and growth that come from being a student-athlete of color at a small liberal arts college. Field hockey player Baglieri found that those difficulties have pushed her as an athlete.
“At Wesleyan, being a student-athlete of color drives me to push my limits to be the best performer I can be,” Baglieri said. “When playing other colleges within the NESCAC conference my freshman year, I felt that at times that I had to prove I belonged in a competitive field hockey program. This past fall, that sentiment disappeared and instead came a newfound confidence that I pushed myself for my teammates and to further develop the field hockey program I felt I have helped build in my time here.”
Muraoka-Robertson attributes her achievements to her identity as a hard-working person, as well as the culture shared among sports teams on campus.
“Practice is a time for real growth and I feel like I take that very seriously,” Muraoka-Robertson said. “That mentality as I’ve gone through college has only strengthened, and is the one of the reasons why I have become more successful as a player throughout my four years at Wes. I also really appreciate the community we get from being on teams and the support from teams around Wes. Added energy and support from a crowd is an incredible experience, one that I’m grateful to have had at Wes.”
Many of the award-winning athletes of color expressed how important it is to them to represent themselves, their school, and their families through their sport.
“On the field my goal was to just represent my family in a proud way through determination and hard work,” Mitchell said. “I also wanted to be an example for the underclassmen and future recruits that there is opportunity in women’s soccer to have success and be a part of an accepting group of girls.”
“On and off the field, I want to be the best person I can be,” Richards said, echoing Mitchell’s sentiment. “I want to help the younger generation of players as well as help the team academically and physically. There are a small percentage of Black athletes on the football team, so the upperclassmen have a responsibility to get them accommodated. Wesleyan is a predominantly white school, so my role is to help guys get more personal.”
“My goals on the field include being both a defensive and offensive coordinator, embodying good sportsmanship, and being an overall leader that my team can rely on,” Baglieri also remarked. “I aim…to create an environment at Wesleyan where student athletes of color feel they are being represented in the NESCAC conference.”
These athletes of color have accomplished tremendous athletic achievements. This fall, each of them earned the respect of all NESCAC opponents and coaches, making them some of the most respectable athletes in the country.
When it comes to diversity and success on and off the field, Mitchell sums it up nicely.
“I take pride in the fact that there are so many of us at this school right now who are incredibly dedicated to making Wes Athletics a more diverse and inclusive space,” Mitchell said. “These student athletes, many of whom are on the Council, don’t let the barriers that they face impede their success. It’s amazing to be a part of that type of community.”
Ben Owen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @benjaminowen28.