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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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Director of Athletics Jill Bodensteiner talks about the Athletic Department’s support for Black student-athletes and the Black Lives Matter movement

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Bodensteiner speaks at a racism forum held by student-athletes on Dec 4, 2018. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

Jill Bodensteiner, J.D., director of athletics, released an open letter to the St. Joe’s community in response to the “racist events in the past week,” on June 1. 

Bodensteiner oversees all of the Hawks’ 20 Division I varsity teams and their respective memberships to the Atlantic 10 Conference. 

The Hawk spoke with Bodensteiner about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and how the Athletic Department plans to cultivate an environment of inclusion for Black student-athletes.

Since the open letter on June 1, what concrete action plans has the athletic department created to support St. Joe’s Black student-athletes?

“Let me start by giving the context in which I’m thinking of these issues in our Athletic Department, and it comes in three categories. First is culture, addressing what it means to truly have an inclusive, inviting and welcoming culture for everybody. The second is informal best practices, really rethinking the way we go about our day-to-day lives, thinking how inclusive those lives are and what things we could do differently. The third is more of a concrete action plan. I’ve met with ‘SAAC’, our Student-Athlete Advisory Council. Aliyah Stokes, a track and field student-athlete, organized the solidarity walk, which several of us from athletics participated in. We’ve been spending a lot of time getting resources out to our staff and student-athletes to begin educating each other and ourselves. And then we formed a committee. We have 28 student-athletes, staff members, coaches and a faculty member [that] volunteered to participate, and we’re meeting for the first time next Thursday, June 18.” 

To encourage wider discussions about racism, what concrete action plans has the Athletic Department created to allow for white St. Joe’s student-athletes to engage in discussions about race and racism?

“I think that’s one of the primary shifts that we’re seeing nationally is that there seems to finally be a recognition that this needs to be a problem that everybody commits their resources, time and energy to. There have to be allies, there has to be action. Everyone needs to listen, learn and share their perspectives. I’ve been really pleased with the way that’s been happening among the coaches and staff, so now we need to expand that to the student-athletes.”

What plans are there for individual varsity teams to discuss racism in sports and cultivate an environment of inclusion and support for Black student-athletes?

“As a leader of a department, I have to find the right balance between myself taking action and dictating action. And on the other hand, realizing that if this isn’t grassroots organic, and doesn’t come in large part from the student-athletes, coaches and others, that I’ve also failed as a leader. So one of the things I’ve done with coaches is say, I want you to have the conversation, but I’m not going to dictate how you have it. We had a coaches’ meeting a few weeks ago, and some of the coaches shared the conversations they’ve already had. We talked about questions and concerns people had and then I left it to the coaches to start having those discussions individually as a team.I can’t say, ‘Here’s how you’re going to define your culture.’ I can certainly hold them accountable, though. Every annual performance review, I’m going to say, ‘What have you done with your team? What have you done to educate yourselves?’” 

What is the St. Joe’s Athletic Department’s policies regarding student-athletes who participate in BLM protests while on teams? 

“I’m more concerned with educating them on how to do it safely, and safely means protecting themselves. There’s a lot of misconduct going on out there by state actors and others, so I think it’s really important that our student-athletes understand how to protect themselves. Also, with respect to [the coronavirus pandemic], they’re anxious to get back to playing and we’re anxious to get them in a position to do that, so one of the things we’re suggesting to them in general is to avoid large gatherings. That’ll be part of the education we’re rolling out here in the next week, but I’m more concerned with protecting them than trying to censor or prohibit them from using their voice.”

St. Joe’s alumna Natasha Cloud has been especially outspoken about issues of racial inequities in sports and in society. What does it mean for the Athletic Department to have an alumna speak out against systemic racism? 

“It was no surprise seeing her as the leader among all WNBA professionals in issues of Black Lives Matter. It means a lot to the department because she’s a role model for our student-athletes. I know [women’s basketball Head] Coach [Cindy] Griffin invited her to join the team and the women’s basketball team had a call with her. And I think it’s just fantastic for them to hear directly from her [about] how she’s used her voice, and serve as a role model for them. I would love, at their own comfort, for student-athletes to follow her lead. I know that everybody has their own way and their own personality. I just hope that people can find their voice in a way that works for them, whether they’re white or Black. 

How does St. Joe’s Jesuit values and ideals play a role within the current movement to expose the systemic racism that occurs in sports?

“One of the things that I’ve tried is to take an action step a day, personally, and the action step I took yesterday was to read everything I could get my hands on, on police defunding and what that concept was all about to be educated on the topic. Those are the kinds of things, expectations and group conversations that we’re going to be having, just educating each other. I think that’s completely consistent with the Jesuit value of lifelong learning.”

Aside from the Office of Community Standards, what support system does the Athletics Department have in place for Black students to report incidences of racism or racial discrimination? 

“We can probably do better on this front. Where I think we can do better is by having just those informal relationships. I would say the vast majority of the time student-athletes go to their coaches or sport administrators or athletic trainers, but not always. And so we need to do a better job of creating safe spaces for that informal conversation or the informal reporting and we’re really committed to doing so. You see Safe Space Allies stickers around campus, I’d like to have Black Lives Matter stickers on our doors. Let people know we’re here, we stand with you, we see you, we’re here as informal resources. What can we really do to make sure this is, number one, an ongoing dialogue and not an issue of the month, and number two, that we really do impact exactly the kind of change [they are] asking about. And part of that comes with hiring. We need to continue to diversify our staff, and not that we can’t have white coaches and others being allies, but we need to have a staff that is representative of our student-athletes and committed to continuing to do so.”

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