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Richmond’s Nick Sherod: Black athletes must use their voices on campus and beyond

The Spiders’ guard examines his own role in the campus community.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 25 Legends Classic - Wisconsin v Richmond Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I have had a chance over the past few weeks to reflect on my experiences as a Black man who is also a college basketball player at the University of Richmond. I have had many great times on the court, but I want to specifically talk about my time off the court. Maybe this will help some people, but it is mostly just me coming clean about my thoughts and some of the failures of my teammates and me. It’s important for me to speak out, but also to reflect and be honest about where I am as a person, and what I have done up to this point.

A lot of my Black peers and I have a healthy skepticism of white people. Just look at the news or read a history book. Does that mean you hate white people? No, but generally, you are worried about intentions and what their goals are, because you aren’t sure they have your best interest at heart.

Alternatively, as a Black athlete, I can lower my skepticism to a level where I am not dealing with it on a regular basis, specifically in social settings. We do not have to deal with our blackness on a day-to-day basis in the same ways as a Black non-athlete on campus. Most of the fans at our games are white, most of the students cheering us on are white, and that’s just how it is. We are a form of non-threatening entertainment, profitable for the university, so we are easily accepted into the homes and circles of people who would not care about us otherwise. The problem is that my teammates and I have not done enough with these opportunities. We just shake hands, smile, and move on. We don’t use our opportunities or platform nearly enough to help the other Black students on campus doing real work.

A lot of student groups, Black or otherwise, have asked for our help. There are sometimes valid excuses, and the basketball season spanning both semesters has limited some of our ability. But there is more we can do. For example, there is a Black student group on campus that invited me to their group chat a few years ago. That’s where they post announcements, activities, and functions generally as a support group for all students of color. Well, I don’t like having a bunch of notifications on my home screen, and it was a super-active group chat. At some point, I decided to just mute the conversation. I still checked, but no more notifications. Eventually, I stopped checking, and then deleted the app completely.

The. Entire. App.

That situation is a microcosm of what my Black teammates and I can sometimes do, in terms of our awareness and participation. We can be lazy at best, and apathetic and ignorant at worst. We quite literally delete that part of our lives, for the most part. The main issue is that we have never missed a notification for a fraternity day party, we never ignore the text of a shuttle to a house party. Any time we have an opportunity to go to a predominantly white event and it works with our schedule, we are there. It’s even a running joke with one of my teammates where we comment on how we are always the only Black person at the day parties or events. We are accepted in ways that other people of color are not. Are going to these parties wrong? Of course not, but that we actively ignore activities with people of color is an issue.

I remember going to a party one time, and as my teammates and I walked in, someone at the door announced that no football players were allowed in, making it clear that the Black football players behind us couldn’t get in. When we entered the house, there was a noticeable amount of white football players inside. I remember just brushing it off and moving on. I was complicit. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t stand up for the Black players who couldn’t get in, I just moved on with my night. The same way I just moved on the thousands of times when a chorus of a popular rap song comes on and everybody in the whole house raps ‘nigger’ as it blares through the speakers. Our participation in this is bad, but becomes problematic when paired with the almost complete neglect of our own people and culture.

Such issues of racism, and my participation in it, do not lie solely outside of the classroom. When starting at the University of Richmond, my biggest fear was not about basketball, it was about my acceptance in the classroom. I know what people think when they see Black athletes walk in the classroom — I hear the moans and see the eye rolls when we are paired with them in groups. I have always been hyper-anxious about those things, and have even been in classrooms where people will argue that my teammates and I don’t “deserve” to be in the class with them, or will argue that some of us somehow lower the value of their degree. In conversations with some students, they are actually surprised when they hear us talk and listen to our observations. The surprise comes from a place of subjective ideologies about what qualifies someone to be in a place of higher education. It’s dangerous and harmful rhetoric that leads to many of the problems we are facing in the world today. We all had qualifications that we had to meet, and we all got the same acceptance letter.

The classroom is not much different from the rest of the world. There are a bunch of people there, all working with varying levels of effort, trying to figure things out. It’s not one student’s job to tell another student that they shouldn’t be there based on what their idea of a “Richmond Quality” student is. Those are the same attitudes that lead to lack of minority representation in positions of leadership, that lead to average white people getting jobs instead of more qualified Black people. I was talking to a white friend of mine, and I told him that you are allowed to be a regular student, not exceptional in any way, and nobody is going to ever question your position, ability, or excellence. It is easy to post about the protests and act like you want to be an ally, but what are you gonna do when you have to confront your privilege in everyday life? When you are confronted with your micro-aggressions? Will you sweep them under the rug? The privilege of being average — the right to be allowed to have a bad class or bad day and not be judged for it — is part of what this whole fight is about.

A lot of my teammates wanted to enter Richmond’s Robins School of Business. One reason some have not is because they don’t feel supported or welcomed, by students and professors alike. The perception is that this space is some holy grail that only the elite of the elite are welcomed into. On campus, I’ve heard people explain it away, saying that students of color are not interested in business. That is simply not true.

I believe that we should examine what we consider elite, as well as call for new spaces on campus that we can also elevate. Personally, I’ve found tremendous support in the English and the Rhetoric and Communications departments, where I majored and minored, respectively. Not only have I learned a lot, but my perception of the world has been challenged and shaped in the process. But that’s just my experience.

Now, I have the privilege to voice the very opinions I’ve kept to myself for too long: I call for the establishment of Africana Studies as a full fledged academic department on campus. It would provide students with an opportunity I currently do not have: to learn about the forms of oppression that Black people face both on and off campus. I need it, and clearly so do many others — Black and white.

These past few weeks have felt more like years. It has made me question everything I have thought or done the past four years. I have had an amazing experience at the University of Richmond, and I am a proud recent graduate. I am fortunate to have one more year left on campus, and I hope that I can help my teammates and my school be better. We can all affect material change, and I think it’s important that we do our best to challenge ourselves and others in their thoughts and mindsets, because if we don’t, we have failed. Does anyone want to go back to the same old system?