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Belmont athletics discusses race, social justice in virtual panel

As racial and political tensions spark global discourse, necessary conversations have started at Belmont — and the athletics department is no exception.

Coaches and faculty from Belmont’s athletic department held a public panel via Zoom Monday night to discuss social justice issues and racial inequalities.

There was agreement across the panel that both practical change and tough conversation about race is necessary — especially at Belmont, a predominantly White university with many Black students and student-athletes.

The panel was moderated by Dr. Kristi Oshiro, assistant professor in sports administration. The panelists were head men’s basketball coach Casey Alexander, head women’s basketball coach Bart Brooks, head softball coach Laura Matthews and athletics staff members Kenisha Rhone and Xavier Humphrey.

Alexander said he lives a privileged life and has seen Belmont as a caring, great community. However, he has come to realize not everyone — specifically students and athletes of color — view Belmont the same way.

And as conversations about racism because more common, Alexander and his peers are working to affect positive change for non-white students, he said.

“I’ve had to learn some hard lessons just by paying attention,” said Alexander. “The world is changed by your example and not your opinion.”

Alexander has been talking with current and former Belmont athletes about their experiences with the university and life beyond campus so he can better support and empower them. This is all in effort to create a world where “social justice is alive and racism is not,” said Alexander.

The panelists said they shared a common willingness to engage with the conversations about racial inequality becoming more common today. They agreed having these tough conversations and listening to one another will foster a safe and supportive environment for Belmont students, athletes and faculty alike.

Listening to the players’ thoughts and feelings is an important part of allyship to non-white student athletes, said Brooks.

“One thing I think that’s important is that our players, they’ve got a voice and that we allow their voice to be heard and we as coaches we listen to their voices,” said Brooks.

While having tough conversations is important, Rhone, director of digital media and social strategy, said many students likely have the tools to educate themselves and advocate for social change; they just may not be putting it to use.

Rhone, who is a person of color, stressed the importance of using social media as a medium to become informed on various perspectives.

With technology and social media in its current state, “there’s a million opportunities for you to be able to talk to people who don’t look anything like you, who are from the other side of the world, who are sharing news and information,” she said.

The panelists said there is still work to be done and conversations to be had, both on and off campus, to achieve racial equality.

But marketing director Xavier Humphrey believes it takes just one leap of faith to make a huge difference — and students can start affecting change now.

“Be that one person that makes that big leap, and don’t be afraid of what people think about you. Go start that conversation with a group of friends.”

This article written by Haydn Nash.

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