Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
After a former lacrosse player wrote about “racist undertones and remarks” she said she experienced while playing for VCU, the team held an open conversation to share player thoughts and concerns.
That summer conversation evolved into a diversity, equity and inclusion committee in the lacrosse program. Following the death of George Floyd and protests in Richmond and other cities, VCU Athletic administrators took it department-wide, according to a release from the department.
Ayana Gordon, an attack player on the team during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, wrote an open letter to VCU women’s lacrosse in response to a “solidarity” post made by the program after the death of Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.
“I simply want to encourage VCU Lacrosse, to stand in their truth as I am now standing in mine,” Gordon wrote. “I encourage them and similar programs to ask tough questions such as ‘What is the black experience really like (here)?’ So that they are not ignorant to these types of issues and can implement true change.”
Gordon said in the article that many remarks made toward her, which she called “offensive and disrespectful,” were swept under the rug while she was one of two Black women on the team.
“I was made out to be the villain and accused of being the angry black girl who was overly sensitive,” wrote Gordon, who graduated in May.
Junior defender Destiny Colon said the conversation among lacrosse players was needed and that it was a “wake up call to everyone in the athletic department.”
“I know we kind of made the initiative toward the athletic department,” Colon said, “there’s no way that we are the only team that has this going on.”
Lacrosse teams around the country are also leading this discussion, Colon said.
“I think that lacrosse is being used as a catalyst, and I think that everyone is aware of the gap in race and ethnicity in this sport,” Colon said. “I think that everyone’s kind of just taking it and running with it. This was probably one of the best sports to start it in and get taken seriously.”
Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin implemented the DEI committee in June, appointing Senior Associate Athletic Director for Administration Takeya McLaurin and Senior Executive Associate Athletic Director Sofia Hiort-Wright as co-chairs.
“It really means the world to me to be a part of this committee and to advance this work for our department,” McLaurin said. “As an African American female myself, all of the issues that we are tackling hit home for me in a personal way.”
McLaurin said as soon as they were appointed, the chairs hit the ground running to recruit committee members. She said after sending out an email to everyone in the department, she immediately heard back from those interested.
“A lot of times, as student-athletes … we’re kind of silenced and told to comply with what our political leaders say, what our elders believe,” Colon said. “I just think this is kind of a gateway for us to start to share our voice and be comfortable in doing so.”
McLaurin and Colon both said student-athletes on the committee are being used as a bridge between the rest of the athletes and the committee.
The DEI committee is looking at compensation and hiring practices within the athletic department. McLaurin said new hires in the department will take unconscious bias training, a new addition to the hiring process.
“We are actually looking at our own equitable practices to facilitate and advance the inclusive environment in our department,” McLaurin said.
The committee is focused on educating staff and student-athletes, as well as giving back to the surrounding communities. Members held a school supply drive in August to benefit children in the Richmond area. McLaurin said the committee was able to donate two boxes of supplies collected by student-athletes and coaches.
The committee held a town hall with VCU Police and student-athletes to discuss police brutality, McLaurin said. She said the committee will hold a similar talk between staff, coaches and the police department.
“I appreciate the committee’s efforts thus far to listen to the feedback from the Black and African American members of our staff to create programming to educate all of our department,” McLaughlin said in a statement. “Having a diverse group of people on the committee, especially our student-athletes, has created a powerful force that will do even more important work in the future.”
The committee is holding educational sessions with professors to encourage voting among student-athletes ahead of Election Day. It also has a monthly book club; September’s book is “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo. Each month, the committee chooses and discusses a new book.
The lacrosse team’s committee still meets and works with the team to educate each other with a different focus each month, Colon said. This week, the team watched “13th,” a documentary directed by Ava DuVernay that examines racial inequities in the U.S. justice system, and will meet in groups to discuss the film.