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How the Black Student Athlete Association shapes community within Minnesota Athletics

The BSAA Executive Leadership team strives to promote inclusivity and a sense of belonging through their efforts.
Image by Brad Rempel
Etienne Dalayni

The University of Minnesota prides itself on inclusion, though it is still a predominantly white institution. According to Data USA, the student population is 59.6% white and only 6.13% Black or African American.

The fact that Minnesota is a predominantly white institution means that many people of color feel the need to find a smaller community — one where they can connect with people more similar to themselves. The Black Student Athlete Association (BSAA) is one smaller community prioritizing Black-identifying student-athletes. 

Peyton Owens III is the senior associate athletics director, a position focusing on leadership and inclusion at the University. The BSAA falls under his department. 

According to Owens, 10-12% of student-athletes at the University of Minnesota are Black. Owens has worked alongside students to create a space for athletes of color to connect and get additional support.

Owens makes an effort to connect students in BSAA with staff members who are also people of color. There are approximately 20 staff members in the athletics department who identify as Black, and Owens prioritizes those connections. These staff members include coaches, nutritionists, psychologists and others.

There are five additional student-run affinity groups in the athletics department, including Athletes Supporting Advocacy and Prevention, Gopher Advocates and Allies, Gopher International, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and Women Invested in Leadership and Learning.

“We have a strong commitment to champion diversity and inclusion,” Owens said. “We want to provide a respectful and inclusive environment for our student-athletes, coaches and staff.”

The BSAA is a newer organization, so many members have been there since the beginning, including one of the co-presidents, Jaydon Antoine. The current co-presidents of the BSAA are two Gophers track and field athletes, Antoine and Dalayni Etienne, while Taylor Landfair, a volleyball player, focuses on graphic design, social media and other promotional materials. Landfair is also on the board of the Black Student Union as a general officer.

“Those three [student-athletes] really stand out and have done a wonderful job of actively engaging and shaping the space,” Owens said. “Those three have really been intentional with shaping and crafting the space and getting information out to all of our Black-identifying young scholars.”

Both co-presidents joined the organization to find community. Etienne is an out-of-state student from Miami, Florida, and Antoine is an international student from Trinidad and Tobago. 

“When I came here, [my coaches] made me feel included as an international student,” Antoine said. “That comfort that I feel, I believe everyone deserves to feel. I took it upon myself with the help of the Executive Board to try and create that space where all students feel included and welcome.”

The BSAA fosters community and encourages belonging by sustaining endeavors to broaden initiatives, engage in collaborative efforts with other organizations and further enhance inclusivity, and will persist in nurturing a sense of belonging for every student at the University.

Some of the events the organization puts on include movie nights, dinners or meetings to discuss important events like the passing of the Crown Act. However, Antoine acknowledges there is progress to be made within the University.

“I do believe that there are more things to be done,” Antoine said. “I think we are taking our step in that direction with this group.”

The executive board also has opportunities to take field trips to Selma, Montgomery and various business conferences with Black professionals. The BSAA is also making an effort to collaborate with other student organizations on campus, particularly the Black Student Union (BSU). 

“This year, we are trying to create events to make BIPOC students feel welcome and create a space where they feel compelled to show up,” Antoine said. “We understand that doing that will give us more opportunities to expand, connect and reach more student-athletes at the U.” 

Landfair was one of the athletes chosen to take a trip to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama last year. The trip included walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma as well as visiting museums and learning about the history of this country.

“It was really cool to be able to come back to the University and share my experience,” Landfair said. “For people that aren’t Black, they don’t really understand it because they don’t really get the opportunity to see that kind of thing.”

This trip was in collaboration with the BSU, so Landfair specifically brought back what she learned to share with other student-athletes in the organization. 

“Being one of those athletes who can come back and share my experience with other athletes and other students and other people in general who aren’t Black was really important to me,” Landfair said. “I found that very empowering, and it gave me a whole other look on life.”

The acknowledgment of ongoing progress within the University and the recognition that more can be done to enhance diversity and inclusion is a positive sign. The student leaders’ enthusiasm for the organization’s growth and their commitment to standing for inclusivity and support bodes well for the future.

“It’s just a matter of how we deal with it and get through it, so it’s just about finding your community and finding your sense of belonging,” Etienne said. “Even though you might not be surrounded by people who look like you or people who have been through the same experiences as you in your classes, having that space that you can go to where you can find that is really important.”

In the future, Antoine, Etienne and Landfair said they are excited to see the organization grow.

“I just really want everyone to know who we are, know what we stand for and know that we are here for them,” Etienne said.

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