Report includes experiences of black student-athletes at Northwestern

Max Schuman, Sports Editor

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A report on the experience of black students at Northwestern released Monday by a University task force includes comments from a focus group of six student-athletes, providing a sample of the issues black student-athletes face on campus.

Protests by students against the relocation of administrative offices into Northwestern’s Black House and Multicultural Center in November 2015 began a campus-wide discussion about the importance of safe spaces for minority student groups. But one student-athlete in the focus group said being a part of a team served as a sort of safe space in itself.

“We have locker rooms and stuff, just speak our minds,” the student-athlete said. “For a lot of (other students), they don’t have this safe space. Living with teammates and stuff, a locker room, gives us a little more safe space.”

Another focus group member expressed a feeling of loneliness with respect to the team environment, saying, “On the soccer team there are only three of us — and that’s a record.”

According to the report, there were 70 black student-athletes attending Northwestern as of the spring of 2016 — or 10.6 percent of all black students.

In the past year, there have been several noteworthy intersections of Northwestern’s athletics programs and the larger conversation about race taking place on college campuses across the country. In November 2015, students protesting the loss of space at the Black House interrupted a groundbreaking event for a new lakeside athletic complex, and the women’s basketball team wore warmup shirts expressing solidarity with students at Missouri, where the football team had pledged not to participate in football activity until the university’s president agreed to step down for mishandling racial issues at the school.

At a panel in February, several current and former black student-athletes said the protest at the groundbreaking caused a conflict of interest for student-athletes, highlighting the separation that some student-athletes feel from the black community on campus.

One focus group member, who said the black community was more accepting of black student-athletes than other groups, also spoke to the tension some student-athletes feel with that community.

“There is kind of a rift between Black student athletes and the regular Black community,” the student-athlete said. “They would like us to do more to support them. They don’t understand what we have to do. We have obligations, too.”