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AU's Abi Jackson.

Abi Jackson: From the Only One to One of Many

February 23, 2024
Abi Jackson
Kait Devir / Athletes Unlimited

2020 was a brutal year for everyone; a lot of traumatic things were happening. It was easy to fully retreat into a sad solitude of acceptance: this is the way things are, and there’s nothing I can do — best to just wait it out.

Of course, the other option was to act, and the events of 2020 motivated me to want to contribute to solutions, not just complain about the problems we were all facing.

The Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) took an active role in being part of the solution as well. They created the Racial Equity Task Force, trusted with identifying some of the challenges that face students of color in the women's college lacrosse space, and creating some purposeful and tangible solutions to these issues.

Out of this, myself and several others created the Multiracial Students Leadership Academy. The purpose of this program was to create a space where minority women’s lacrosse players could come together, converse, take advantage of resources and find support and mentorship.

As I transitioned out of college coaching into my current role as Director of Sport for Lacrosse at Athletes Unlimited, it was important to me to remain involved in the development and cultivation of this endeavor.

We collected articles on key issues like imposter syndrome, the effects of microaggressions, systemic racism, and cultural competency, and developed a curriculum. We engaged prominent women of color from in and around the world of lacrosse and athletics at large to engage with our athletes in an intimate setting. We sourced a group of multiracial college coaches as facilitators to guide discussions and provide assistance to athletes in processing the materials. As an incredible bonus, a few Athletes Unlimited Pro Lacrosse players of color joined the kick off session, making the inaugural year even more special.

Now in year three, the Academy has tackled everything from ongoing race-based incidents in the lacrosse world to the realities of being a person of color in a traditionally white-dominated sport existing at predominately white institutions.

We will continue on.

The 2024 program boasted over 70 participants, including several guests from collegiate field hockey programs in collaboration with the National Field Hockey Coaches Association (NFHCA). We focused our discussions on the real-time issues of the day – the dissolution of on-campus Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) offices and programming, and the need for mutiracial athletes to protect their mental health and wellness as they navigate a majority white space, conflict resolution, and more.

Participants and facilitators come from all divisions of the NCAA, as well as the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). AU Pro Lacrosse defender Kayla Wood made her return to the Academy as a member of the planning committee.

While all the above achievements are critically important, to truly illustrate the power of this program I have to go back to the inaugural year.

Growing up, I was almost always the only person of color in an academic or athletic space, with one or two exceptions. Logging into the first Zoom meeting of our program in 2021, when all the boxes and faces within them appeared, I cannot describe the feeling I had. Never have I logged onto a Zoom call – never mind walked into a room – to find faces that resembled mine looking back at me. I wanted to cry with joy, a reaction I was not expecting and totally unprepared for.

You never know what you might be missing until you find it. I was missing community, a sense of belonging and relatability, but didn’t know it until right then on that Zoom call.

My hope and goal is that future women’s lacrosse student-athletes of color can experience this feeling, too; that I can continue to assist in providing opportunities for our community to continue to come together.

The success of our student-athletes of color, as well as the health and growth of our game, depends on it.