The Gonzaga Black Student Union (BSU) was attacked by racial and homophobic slurs in their weekly Zoom meeting on Nov. 8. In response to this attack, several clubs on campus have put out statements and messages of support for BSU and minority students on campus.
“I know a lot of people on BSU, and this hurt me to see,” said Shyh Saenz, a sophomore. “I know the person who got attacked, they were my BRIDGE leader, it is just so crazy and scary to me."
Saenz, a member of the women's soccer team at GU, is also a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
After the meeting had been virtually bombed, BSU member Malcolm Duncan posted a video of the verbal attacks to social media. Since the post became public, it has over 2,000 interactions.
"No one should ever go through that," part of SAAC's message read. "Action must be taken and SAAC, on behalf of Gonzaga Student-Athletes, stands with you all.”
The committee went a step further then just admonishing the racially-based, acts and posed a specific call to action for student athletes to get involved and find community in one another to overcome the adversity.
“We felt it was important and necessary to show we stand up to and denounce all forms of racism against our community,” said Alex Walde, vice president of the SAAC. “If our minority athletes do not feel safe on campus then that is a problem and it needs to change."
SAAC is made up of eight board members and has representatives from all Division 1 athletic programs. Recently in March of 2020, SAAC reevaluated its board and decided to expand. The position that was added to the board was diversity and inclusion chair. This role was filled by Shyh Saenz.
Saenz has applauded SAAC’s efforts to be more involved with minorities and student-athletes of color.
“I think it is really good what SAAC is trying to do in the current climate to get more involved with minorities and underrepresented groups,” Saenz said
As diversity and inclusion chair, Saenz has worked alongside SAAC president Lauren McCallum to create new events on campus focused on social justice. SAAC has been heavily involved in NCAA initiatives and on-campus initiatives focused on social justice and current movements taking place in America.
The new event that Saenz and Lauren McCallum, the president of SAAC, created was the Social Justice Series. The first part of the series was on Nov. 4 and was open to all student-athletes.
"We had Dr. Raymond Reyes come lecture for us, and he came with a lot of good suggestions and ways to talk about these difficult issues,” McCallum said.
Along with events that are being planned on campus, the NCAA and the West Coast Conference (WCC) have also started several initiatives and webinars to help with education and discussion on the current issues of race and diversity.
“The WCC has started anti-racist webinars and conversation circles where they invite specific student-athletes from different universities and it allows you to talk about these issues with other student-athletes, and step outside of your comfort zone,” McCallum said.
The NCAA has a new initiative called the NCAA unity pledge, which GU athletic teams will be displaying their solidarity by wearing a representative patch on their jerseys.
“There are 10 points that discuss unity and civility that team members will have to sign, and we are slowly but surely working this initiative into place,” Walde said.
The SAAC is currently made up of all-white student-athletes except for the diversity and inclusion chair.
“We try really hard to get more diversity on the board but being on SAAC is something you have to want to do, and you cannot force someone onto the board,” McCallum said. “I think we have been doing a better job at getting more people involved, but especially with the new remote nature of meetings you have to be engaged.”
Saenz, as the only minority represented on the board, feels a unique responsibility as a voice for student-athletes of color.
“As a POC athlete on campus I may not have the loudest voice, but my voice can help speak for others,” Saenz said. “I really want GU and SAAC to be a place where everyone feels welcome in the community.”
In the spring semester, SAAC plans on continuing its Social Justice Series, along with more events that focus on unity and inclusion.
“We are going to do our best to support our minority student-athletes and are going to work as hard as we can to create a more welcoming space for everyone,” Walde said. “No one deserves to feel like an outcast at GU.”