Gordon Brunskill | EIVA Sports Information Director
When the EIVA’s Racial Equity Council held its first meeting in July, the forum was open for stories of what black student-athletes experienced.
“On the road, fans kept calling me the N-word and it was never addressed,” recounted one council member.
“Teammates asked me why I did not play a black sport and stuck with volleyball,” was the recollection of another council member, while another said he was called the “white black kid” on the team.
“During my time on the team, we did not have a single black volleyball recruit on campus,” was yet another story heard from one of the 24 current and former players who make up the council.
The stories demonstrated what minority student-athletes face, especially in a sport with rosters dominated by white players.
The EIVA Racial Equity Council aims to have those not be the stories told by future student-athletes.
The council has assembled a list of goals and has begun delivering presentations to EIVA teams. Council Co-Chair and Princeton alumnus Junior Oboh led an online presentation with coaches, assistant coaches and other staff from the EIVA on Tuesday.
After the nearly-90-minute presentation, coaches at each EIVA program will take the next step in delivering guidance and presentations to team members, with Oboh and other members of the council assisting in the sessions with each team.
The council was created in June on the heels of national unrest and protests regarding inequities in the treatment of the black community, and is the first of its kind in collegiate men’s volleyball. The group also is co-chaired by former NJIT standout and EIVA Hall-of-Famer Tarik Rodgers, and boasts at least one current or former player from each of the EIVA’s eight current teams, plus representatives from St. Francis Brooklyn, which will join for the 2022 season, and former member Southampton.
One of the most basic goals of the discussions was assuring an optimal environment for the entire team.
“We want players to feel comfortable and safe within their team,” Oboh told the coaches.
The council’s objectives are:
— Mentor current student-athletes and increase academic performance.
— Advise coaches on ways to engage and activate on the campus level.
— Assist in the identification of potential student-athletes in minority communities.
— Increase educational opportunities for youths in those communities.
— Retain athletic engagement.
— Ensure leadership and coaching pathways for student-athletes of color.
Among the observations heard by the coaches was minority players not always feeling welcome.
“Guys can be on a team but not included,” Oboh said. “Inclusivity and issues should be included in materials for players before every season.”
Oboh pointed out he was the only black player on the roster during his time at Princeton, and he noted that only eight of the 154 players on 2020 EIVA rosters were black. If he needed guidance and encouragement, he would seek out members of other teams on campus.
Also joining the presentation was Guy Nembhard, a former standout at Lewis of the MIVA, who noted having so few minorities in their team’s locker room led to a reluctance in voicing concerns or complaints.
“I was afraid to say something that might put me in a bad light,” he said. “There can be a fear in an athlete’s mind that they can feel repercussions from that (speaking up), they could lose playing time and alienate teammates and coaches.”
That reticence also extended to what some heard from fans during matches, including racial slurs.
“We have to make sure this isn’t swept under the rug,” Princeton head coach Sam Shweisky said. “What can we do to make sure this stops happening?”
Oboh added the council’s goals go beyond the locker room and court. The council also hopes to see changes in recruiting, letting prospective players know there is an interest in making them welcome and increasing opportunities for minorities, and with club programs, where black student-athletes also are underrepresented.
Oboh was a natural choice for the council and giving presentations because he already had been doing the same for Princeton.
“I felt empowered and to drive these discussions,” he said, “based on previous leadership experiences within volleyball and Princeton’s student-athlete community.”