Saint Joseph's women's soccer rising sophomore Asia Whittenberger was one of 10 Atlantic 10 Conference student-athletes that joined more than 500 athletic leaders and other student-athletes from across the country for the 2019 NCAA Inclusion Forum this past April in Atlanta, Georgia. She recently took some time to reflect and share her experience with SJUHawks.com.
What was the process for getting invited to participate in the NCAA Inclusion Forum?
The Atlantic 10 Conference was giving out grants to a handful of student-athletes to help cover costs to attend the forum. Renie Shields and Jill Bodensteiner both put word in to my coach that I should try for it, and Renie personally e-mailed me about the details. I had to make a two-minute or less video sharing to A-10 personnel why I believe I deserve to go to the forum, and they said I could make it as creative as I wanted. I added personal touches too, like videos of me dancing and singing and videos of my travel. When I found out I won I had to keep pretty quiet about it until an official press release was sent out.
How were the sessions set up?
The panels were all very large. Some sessions it was the whole forum group, most you could choose from. If it was one you had to choose from, there were always three options. There were ones that were definitely administrative-oriented, while others I feel as a student-athlete I could relate to more.
What sessions did you feel most engaged in?
I felt most engaged with the panels "Preventing Campus Sexual Violence – Best Practices and Educational Tools," "Building a Culture of Healthy Masculinity for Your Teams," and one about HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Preventing sexual violence and promoting healthy masculinity go hand-in-hand, but healthy masculinity does not end there. It's about supporting more people than just the rich, straight, white, able-bodied male in a culture that loves to put a lot of focus on them and them only. The HBCU panel was more of a personal interest of mine. The first place Jill and I stopped after getting off the plane was Morehouse College and Spelman College because I wanted to visit so badly. I couldn't miss the opportunity while in Atlanta. I have the utmost respect for HBCUs and what they bring to the table both educationally and culturally.
How much interaction did you have with other A-10 student-athletes?
I had a lot of interaction with the other A-10 students. My hotel roommate was Lara Negron, who is a rower at George Washington University. We got along so well. All the A-10 students had a dinner together, and afterwards you know someone had to text to the whole group "so where are we hanging out at the hotel?" It was a lot of fun meeting people from different schools. We all still chat sometimes.
What are some of the main points you took away from the forum?
To be honest, much of what I promoted before this forum was diversity more than inclusiveness. A quote from the forum taught me that "diversity is counting heads, but inclusion is making sure that every head counts." Inclusion is about making sure that someone is comfortable and truly accepted in the space that they are in. I kind of see it now as diversity giving a starting purpose and inclusivity being a perfect end goal. You really can't have one without the other. The two concepts should both be held to a high standard.