Blazing a Trail

Black Student-Athlete Committee

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This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

Being part of something bigger than yourself is one of the many lessons students learn throughout their college years.

For this reason, students are encouraged to join clubs and committees to learn more about themselves and the impact they can have on those around them.

At SMU, BSAAC (Black Student-Athlete Advisory Committee) was created for this very purpose. In addition to supporting the full identities and voices of Black student-athletes, BSAAC also helps educate and spread awareness on topics related to social and racial injustice.

Recently, five members of BSAAC — Jefferson Koulibaly, TK Pitts, Bryce McMorris, Amirah Abdur-Rahim, and Jasmine Jolly — had the privilege of attending the Black Student-Athlete Summit hosted by the University of Southern California.

Accompanying the student-athletes at the summit were Rashard Fant and Brenda Scott. Fant is the Director of Student-Athlete Success, while Scott is the Director of Inclusive Excellence.

Fant credits these five student-athletes for revitalizing BSAAC and being the change they want to see around campus and in their community.

“They were fully committed to bringing the committee back to life and being fully engaged in the process,” said Fant. “When the opportunity for the summit at USC came about, Brenda and I knew these five were more than worthy of the chance to represent our school and grow and develop as students, athletes, and people.”

With none of them having attended a summit like this before, they didn’t know what to expect as they made their way to Southern California. But they were eager and willing to learn – along with 1,500 student-athletes across the country – in making their community and university a better place.

Opportunity of a lifetime

While the group had no expectations about what the summit would entail, it turned out to be a much larger scale than they realized, specifically for Koulibaly and Jolly.

“I thought it’d be a chance to meet and connect with people from around the country,” said Koulibaly. “That turned out to be true, but I underestimated how much of an impact it would have on me professionally.”

“I quickly discovered that you could meet your future employer out here. It was a networking opportunity of a lifetime, and going into the event, I didn’t realize the significance it could have on my future.”

“We had a careers event day, and they essentially taught us how to do an elevator pitch,” said Jolly. “This gave us the chance to talk to professionals from all over the country. I still have loads of contacts and connections I made from that one event, which illustrates the magnitude of the summit.”

For Scott, as a staff member and leader, the summit went better than she possibly could have imagined, and she beamed with pride about how much it will benefit BSAAC and its members moving forward.

“I truly believe this was the start of some amazing things to come,” said Scott. “I could see the excitement on their faces as they met with prominent administrators and highly intellectual individuals who showed that they care about being advocates for student-athletes.”

In this together

In the ups and downs that come with being a student-athlete, sometimes it can feel as if you’re on an island and no one understands what you’re going through. That’s why it was comforting for the group to meet fellow student-athletes and hear the same problems and struggles they face on an everyday basis.

“It was eye-opening for me to see that our issues are not our issues alone, as there are so many other student-athletes that go through similar battles,” said Abdur-Rahim.

“Even more than that, I learned that it’s okay to ask for additional help and resources. Whether it’s from a student-athlete or African American perspective, we have the power to fight for change and opportunities that would make our community feel more comfortable on a campus that is a PWI (Predominantly White Institution).

Koulibaly concurred about the importance of meeting fellow student-athletes from various PWIs, and it gave him peace in knowing there’s a way out of every difficult situation.

“Connecting with student-athletes from PWIs around the country was huge for me,” said Koulibaly. “As Black student-athletes, we’re in this together. There’s always going to be struggles and adversity, but there’s also beauty and power that comes with getting through them. That’s what I learned the most through the summit.”

“It was eye-opening for me to see that our issues are not our issues alone, as there are so many other student-athletes that go through similar battles,” said Abdur-Rahim.

Putting the student in student-athlete

Another common theme at the summit was a reminder that the word “student” comes first in student-athlete. In the competitive landscape of DI sports, we too often forget that these incredible athletes are students first and foremost.

“There were a bunch of different people that talked about being pressured to change their major,” said Pitts. “Their grades were slipping, and their coach needed them on the field or court.”

“As a freshman, that was so impactful for me to hear because I saw the injustice in that. It reiterated that there’s nothing more powerful or important than your education; it’s your future, and no one has the right to dictate that future except yourself.”

McMorris also found it refreshing to get to know other people on a personal level, not just through their respective sports as athletes.

“They went the extra mile in allowing us to come together after the sessions and get to know each other on a personal level,” said McMorris.

“To connect with student-athletes from universities all over the country and get to know who they are as people – not what they do on the court or field – was my favorite part of the summit.”

A life-changing recommendation

Forming connections with student-athletes outside of their sports is a challenge at most universities. This only makes BSAAC more meaningful to the SMU campus in its strive to improve and positively impact the Black experience as a student and athlete.

For Jolly, being the President of BSAAC, she’s amazed at how far the committee has come since its humble beginnings.

“In our first-ever meeting, there were only two of us,” said Jolly. “So to be able to look at this committee now and how much work we’ve put into it this past year has been incredibly rewarding.”

“The five of us having the chance to attend the summit at the end of the school year made all of that time and effort we put in worth it.”

As BSAAC continues to grow, the group couldn’t recommend the summit enough to teammates, classmates, and other BSAAC members should they be presented with this opportunity in the future.

“I would encourage any of my teammates and classmates to go because connections are everything,” said Abdur-Rahim. “Having connections at your university is one thing, but to be able to connect with so many influential people from all over the country and world is powerful beyond measure. It can truly be life-changing.”

“I’d recommend this summit to anyone who needs a reminder about the opportunity you have to succeed in life,” said McMorris. “By taking the steps through sports and academics – no matter how challenging they get at times – the journey is worth the destination because it sets us up for success later in life.”

“As student-athletes, our schedules are hectic,” said Pitts. “But taking the time to get involved in organizations like BSAAC and attend these summits matter because they make a difference. Once you find an organization to get involved in, you’ll notice a change in yourself and those around you for the better, and that’s why it’s so important to me.”

Committed to a better future

With BSAAC being revitalized this past year at SMU, it will only continue to expand with the aforementioned student-athletes that are committed to promote change and impact countless others.

Fant and Scott couldn’t be more proud of this group of student-athletes they oversee and are excited for the impact they’ll have at SMU going forward.

“I’m appreciative of these five student-athletes that attended the summit and how well they represented their university,” said Fant. “I look forward to continuing to help not only them but all of our student-athletes in growing BSAAC and having a significant impact in athletics and on campus.”

“BSAAC is for leaders, and this group is leaders in every sense of the word,” said Scott. “We want our Black student-athletes to feel safe and have a sense of belonging. That’s one of our main goals of BSAAC, and the Black Student-Athlete Summit further emphasized that goal.”

“I can’t wait to see everything this group has planned this fall to do bigger and better things for their fellow student-athletes.”

With this group of trailblazers leading the way, it’s safe to say BSAAC is in good hands, and the future of SMU remains undeniably bright.