Joe Dodson, Contributing Writer
After living in Richmond for nearly four years, one men’s soccer player knew he wanted to make a lasting impact. Little did he know, it wouldn’t be on the playing field, but instead through a committee focused on student voting and social issues.
Forward Andy Mensah joined the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, or SAAC, to encourage civic engagement and make a difference in the community.
“We do need to vote. This is our civic duty as Americans,” Mensah said. “We love this country and we need to help it anyway we can, and the best way we can in November is by voting.”
Mensah, a co-chair of SAAC’s community service committee, said being a leader means serving other people.
“Hearing their voice, seeing what they need and helping them,” Mensah said.
With a focus on student voting for this year, SAAC held an open Zoom conference with student athletes where they discussed the importance of voting and sent candidate information to students.
“We encourage everybody to vote,” said Dani Jo David, committee vice president and a setter on the volleyball team. “We think it’s very important to have a role in your community.”
Members of SAAC have chosen to address several political issues. The committee planned to host a unity walk in support of the ongoing social justice protests in Richmond and other cities, but it was canceled due to COVID-19.
“I definitely think politics do belong in sports,” David said. “Especially when a lot of athletes are Black at VCU. You can’t just tell them to play and tell them to do this and that when they don’t even have an open, honest atmosphere to play in.”
SAAC has been active on social media, informing students about the November presidential election. The social media campaign aims to show students the importance of voting and how to register.
In the 2016 presidential election, only 46.1% of people aged 18-29 voted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I think a lot of people think it’s something annoying to do, but I think it is a privilege,” said SAAC president and field hockey forward Emily van Hijfte. “Everyone should realize that, since there are a lot of people who aren’t able to vote.”
Each member brings a unique perspective on issues they are passionate about. David said she has been educating herself on transgender rights. Van Hijfte focuses on the criminal justice system, exploring topics like prison and police reform.
“What I’m enjoying about this group of SAAC members is that they are very outspoken, but they are also taking the responsibility to educate themselves before they speak,” said Artis Gordon, SAAC’s faculty advisor.
VCU Athletics has addressed the racial inequality in the country, stating the organization “has no place for hate, oppression or intolerance.”
“We strive every day to create an environment that embraces inclusivity, based on our core values of diversity and equity,” read a May 31 release from Athletics Director Ed McLaughlin.
But SAAC members want to go beyond a statement.
“We are working together to try and do something about racial inequality in Richmond,” Van Hijfte said. “We are trying to talk to some politicians to see what we can actually do instead of it just being a lot of talk.”