X-Women basketball player garners inaugural racial justice leadership grant

File Photo (photo credit Vaughan Merchant)
File Photo (photo credit Vaughan Merchant)

Aliyah Fraser wants to make a difference for BIPOC student-athletes
by Corey LeBlanc

Aliyah Fraser says – as an African Nova Scotian student-athlete – she is "familiar with racial injustice in sport and have experienced the consequences of racial injustice first-hand."

"I understand what it's like to be a minority in sport and would like to create a platform where minority student-athletes competing in the AUS have a voice," she adds.

Those are the opening lines of an essay the sophomore guard with the StFX X-Women basketball program penned as part of her application for a StFX Frank McKenna Centre's Racial Justice Leadership Grant.

"It is super exciting – I never thought that I would get it," the New Glasgow natives says of word she was one of the inaugural six recipients.

As a StFX press release last month says, the grant winners will be "adding their voices to wider discussions around systemic and institutional racism and enabling change."

It explains the $4,500 annual grants are designed to provide Black and Indigenous students with funding and institutional resources "to support projects that include research, organizing and outreach work, or advocacy and activism in racial justice."

The recipients' contributions are meant to join efforts at StFX and in the wider community "to take needed, decisive action to combat racism and the systemic exclusion and disenfranchisement of Black and Indigenous students in Canadian society and in higher education."

Fraser, a second-year health science student, works on the Black and Indigenous Athletes' Association (BIAA) – an initiative aimed at collecting information from Black and Indigenous athletes, including their struggles.

"I look forward to seeing where it will take us," she offers of her research.

Fraser adds "I want to help out these student-athletes."

A key part of the research process will be gathering data from BIPOC student-athletes regarding "their struggles."

"We are hitting the ground running," Fraser says.

The essay

In her essay, the 2020 conference all-rookie team player offers there is a lack of racial sensitivity towards student-athletes of Black and Indigenous descent. She adds there is no anti-racism training for student-athletes entering universities to prevent racism from occurring in athletics.

"Coaches and athletes of Black and Indigenous descent lack visibility, leading to a lack of advocacy for issues that specifically impact minority populations," Fraser writes.

"Aside from student-athletes, there is no anti-racism training that is mandatory for coaches, administrators and executives to take; this training might prevent future discrimination for taking place and will provide institutions for sensitivity surrounding race and ethnicity."

She adds there is currently no accountability or consequences for racial discrimination, which is normalized in pop culture.

"Student-athletes of colour are often stigmatized on campus and in the classroom," Fraser says.

While reflecting on receiving her grant, she notes she has had such experiences.

In her grant essay, Fraser also suggests the past six months have "really displayed the lack of support for Black and Indigenous people in sport."

She notes – at the height of the Covid-19 global pandemic and incidences of racial violence – many have struggled mentally "as there were no solutions presented by institutions to support their athletes, due to this lack of advocacy from institutions."

Fraser says this inspired her to create the BIAA platform, where student-athletes can receive support.

She adds her focus of the research is capturing experiences of Black and Indigenous student-athletes in the AUS, while providing social support for these marginalized groups with monthly meetings.

"It will provide them with a safe space to share their experiences and supports with one another," Fraser notes.

She says her work will also focus on educating coaches and other athletes on racial and cultural sensitivity, along with properly dealing with racism and discrimination in their institution.

"We want to hear about their needs," Fraser adds.

She plans to do this through virtual meetings, creating surveys and hosting conferences for these populations "to collaborate and gain a voice."

Although there are broader aspirations – when it comes to those she wants to reach – her work has started on a "micro-level," with hearing personal experiences – both positive and negative – and gaining feedback from StFX student-athletes and coaches.

"We will provide racial sensitivity training to all student-athletes and create places on campus where student-athletes and coaches of colour can receive support for their needs."

From there, the plan is to do the same with AUS universities and then move across Canada through U SPORTS members.

As she outlines in her essay, Fraser says there is a lack of raced-based data related to BIPOC (Black Indigenous Person of Colour) student-athletes and coaches. Along with providing education and training, she explains her research will help "fill that gap."

"There is no data being collected, leading to gaps not being filled and inequalities continuing to exist," she adds.

Fraser notes collecting this "important" data will help universities accommodate athletes of colour, while providing programming that "fits their specific needs."

As an example, she offers Black student-athletes are "more likely" to have an undiagnosed learning disability.

"They have no support with their struggle," she says.

Because often they come from low-income households, the cost for learning disability testing was prohibitive, which leads to academic struggles that have only grown by the time they reach university.

"We are often turned away from the academic stream," Fraser offers of advice they receive in high school, when it comes to their academic future.

She says there continues to be a lack of access to tutors and learning center opportunities for BIPOC student-athletes.

Fraser also notes that 65 per cent of BIPOC student-athletes lose their athletic scholarships, which are crucial for most to continuing their education.

 "They don't come back," she says of the common decision not to continue their university studies, once they lose their athletic scholarships.

'Really cool'

X-Women head coach Lee Anna Osei encouraged Fraser to apply for the grant.

"I thought this would provide her with the chance to create something special," she says of the 5'10" student-athlete being able "to help others who look like her."

Fraser describes the confidence and faith the third-year mentor has in her as "really cool."

"Coach thought it would be a good fit for me," she says.

Osei calls Fraser a "leader – both on and off the court," despite only being a sophomore with the White and Blue women's basketball program.

"Aliyah has already taken on a lot of responsibility," she says.

Osei adds this grant will provide Fraser with a "great opportunity" to continue to build her leadership skills.

She notes her teammates and program, along with StFX Athletics, are "incredibly proud of Aliyah."

'Listen to our stories'

Fraser says these racial justice leadership grants will have a "huge impact," as part of spreading awareness, along with helping a vulnerable population.

When asked what she wants to accomplish, she offers "to really help empower " BIPOC student-athletes, while helping improve their "overall student experience."

As for what the broader community – all of us – can do to assist in continuing on the path to making much-needed change and progress, Fraser says people have to start to "listen to our stories."

"I know it is difficult to understand what we are going through – if you have not had experienced it – but that doesn't mean people cannot listen and make that connection," she adds.