Black Student Athlete Group Focuses on Community, Mentoring, and Diversifying Athletics

December 7, 2020
Amanda Nagy
Zoom screen shot of members of the Black Student Athlete Group.
BSAG board members, from top left: third-year Kofi Asare, second-year Chilly Wallace, third-year Malaïka Djungu-Sungu, third-year Kobe Brooks, fourth-year Lawrence Hamilton, third-year Rowan Smith, third-year Jada Kennerly, and fourth-year Alexis Castillo. Photo credit: Courtesy of BSAG

This fall, the Black Student Athlete Group (BSAG) has re-energized and taken advantage of the unusual circumstances of the pandemic by working creatively to diversify the athletics department.

When third-years Kofi Asare and Malaïka Djungu-Sungu took over as the group’s cochairs this year, they recognized that the protests and uprising over the summer combined with uncertainty about being able to compete would require unconventional thinking about ways to support Black athletes and create change in the Department of Athletics.

The organization was founded in 2019 by graduates Naeisha McClain, Cheyenne Arthur, Jabree Hason, Jubreel Hason, and Devin White. Although their senior year on campus was cut short due to COVID-19, they created a space where Black athletes could talk about the challenges they face within their sport, advocate for action against inequality, and foster support for Black students in athletics, as well as the overall well-being of Oberlin’s Black community.

‘‘It’s really important that Black people can have a space where they can celebrate themselves and have community, but also talk about their issues, advocate for themselves, and be supported and heard,’’ says Djungu-Sungu, a member of the women’s track and field team majoring in economics and Africana studies. 

Asare, a biology major and member of the men’s track and field team , says the events over the summer heightened the need for the group to elevate its presence on campus. 

‘‘We approached this semester as an opportunity to step outside the box,’’ Asare says. ‘‘We had to consider the areas we felt were most necessary. We thought about the different Black alumni who used to be student-athletes. Part of the community building aspect comes from networking. We wanted to bridge the gap between former and current Black student-athletes.’’

On a Thursday evening in October, the group coordinated a virtual panel discussion with 10 Black alumni who shared their experiences about being a student-athlete at Oberlin, how they navigated the campus and their team dynamics, and what they’re doing after Oberlin. 

Giving Black athletes an opportunity to see other people who look like them is high on the BSAG‘s agenda. 

The group meets with the athletics department’s diversity and equity working group monthly to discuss ways to catalyze effective allyship among non-Black players and make the department more inclusive of Black voices and perspectives. They‘re also working with coaches to help recruit more Black student-athletes. To this end, they‘ve hosted panel discussions with recruits ’’to let them know there is a group for them when they get here, so they know Oberlin is a place where they can thrive and be heard,’’ says Djungu-Sungu. 

Another key initiative the group developed this fall is a peer-to-peer mentorship program with Black student-athletes in Oberlin High School.  

‘‘The idea is that we will be matched one-on-one to guide OHS students in their journey to college, also talking about their experience being Black and being advocates for themselves,’’ Djungu-Sungu says. ‘‘We’ve already had conversations with the high school’s Black Student  Union about ways we can learn from each other.’’

Chris Donaldson, assistant dean and director of Student Academic Success Programs, is advising the BSAG and helping to engage the group with Black alumni. 

‘‘Some of the most important influences on athletes of all ages come from those individuals who can share similar experiences and connect on familiar themes,’’ says Donaldson, an Oberlin graduate and two-sport athlete in baseball and football. ‘‘I’m honored to be working with them, and I fully embrace their mission.’’ 

Although there’s no competition at the moment, Asare and Djungu-Sungu have both discovered some bright spots.

‘‘This semester has shown me how to be a better teammate,,’’ Asare says. ‘‘In the flow of the season, you’re preoccupied and worried about a track meet; you’re worried about a conference meet and wanting to win. To have that all stripped away, my priorities changed. Now, I need to find ways to be a better teammate from afar. I need to reach out to the first-years and let them know I‘m around. I‘m making sure I connect with the fourth-years and find out what they plan to do after they graduate.’’

Djungu-Sungu says the track and field team feels more like family. 

‘‘We know we can’t look forward to that big conference meet or the smaller meets each Saturday, but we’re still practicing and moving as if we are competing. We’re working toward something big because there’s still a future for us.’’

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