By Carley Crain
On Thursday, Feb. 17, Springfield College hosted a webinar entitled “Reflecting on the Lived Experiences of Black Student-Athletes at Predominantly White Institutions: A Panel Discussion.” The webinar featured three former student-athletes from different divisions; Kezia Conyers, Barak Henderson, and Sierra Whitlock.
Conyers played Division I basketball at Appalachian State University and is now the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Motlow State Community College.
Henderson was a dual-sport athlete at Alma College, as he participated in both football and track. He is now a financial advisor at the Michigan-based Hantz Group.
Whitlock graduated from the University of Hartford and was a standout softball player during her time on campus. She is now the Assistant Director of Championships and Operations for the American East Conference.
Dr. Calvin Hill and Adaeze Alaeze-Dinma moderated the conversation, as this webinar was part of the ‘Diversity Dialogue’ series that is hosted by the Division of Inclusion and Community Engagement.
After a quick introduction from Hill, Alaeze-Dinma began asking questions to each panelist about their experiences as former Black college athletes.
All of the panelists spoke about how sports gave them the opportunity to pursue a college degree, however, instead of focusing on external opinions or ideals, each panelist embraced the opportunity of being a college athlete.
The team culture of college programs tends to be extremely close-knit, which helped all three athletes build strong relationships during their four years of college. They did notice that since most of their time was spent focusing on their sport, the majority of people they surrounded themselves with were also student-athletes. Because of this, it was hard to be involved with other organizations on campus.
Sometimes they felt they were secluded in an “athlete bubble.” However, sports helped them find meaning and purpose in life.
“I couldn’t see myself fitting in the way I wanted to and once I did find my friends outside of sport it was great, but they also came through other teams, ” said Whitlock. “I am not sure where I would have started if it wasn’t for my sport.”
Each athlete also emphasized the importance of BIPOC representation. They noticed throughout their college experience, there weren’t many people that looked like them.
“When I was 14, we had an all-Black outfield, and it was notable. I never had more than one or two Black teammates on my team since then,” said Whitlock.
For Conyers, the environment was a wake-up call. Growing up in Florida, her childhood community consisted mostly of people of the same race. When she made the trip to college, her new surroundings were primarily white.
“When I went on my visit I understood that the landscape of the scenery and the area that it would be different, ” explained Conyers. “It was somewhat of a cultural shock coming from a predominantly Black high school.”
When Henderson was a student-athlete at Alma College, he felt he had a chip on his shoulder as a Black male athlete. Henderson decided to go to a D-III institution because he wanted to focus more on academics. However, he felt that many viewed him as just an athlete and not as an intelligent student.
“I wanted a college where I could challenge myself academically. As a stereotype, especially when I went to my last high school which was predominantly white, it was always ‘Oh you are the African American Student you must be really good at sports.’ For me, it was about showing people that I am not just good at sports and that I am actually very intelligent,” said Henderson.
Since most of the athlete’s environments were white-dominated, they felt it was hard for coaches or other teammates to relate.
“I didn’t go to my coach because in my head I thought he could not relate, ” said Henderson. “I didn’t think he could point me in the right direction to get the help that I needed.”
Because of the lack of representation at their colleges, each athlete noticed that many BIPOC students transferred early.
“I think having a Black woman would have been life-changing for me,” explained Whitlock.
A quick question and answer session followed after the conclusion of the panel discussion. Each athlete also offered advice for what they feel society can do more of to improve diversity on college campuses. The panelists emphasized that there is always more work to be done and that it is up to individuals to make changes and have tough conversations in their own personal life.
With Black History Month wrapping up, the College still has numerous events lined up before the end of February. To learn more about these activities, go to