This week, the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) presented a workshop in partnership with RISE, a national nonprofit organization that educates and empowers the sports community to eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice, and improve race relations. The topic was microaggressions, which are small insults, putdowns and invalidations that can have serious, long-lasting impact.
“Coming out of the pandemic and a lot of the social justice initiatives, conversations, activities and the events that were happening around that time, especially in college sports, the WBCA doesn’t want that momentum to get stopped,” said Coquese Washington, head women’s basketball coach at Rutgers University and co-chair of the WBCA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee.
“We’re a very diverse coaching community, so we want to always make sure we are having conversations that help our coaches coach these diverse teams knowledgeably and successfully,” said Washington. “Understanding how microaggressions happen. Often, they’re unintentional or you’re unaware, but can impact camaraderie and the chemistry on teams.”
During the RISE-facilitated workshop, which was held twice, participants learned about the subject and how to be aware of microaggressions in their programs as well as how to help their student-athletes who may encounter them in their classes or on campus.
“It might not be within the program, but when our student-athletes come back to us and say, ‘This happened to me,’ we have to be knowledgeable and educated enough to know that’s a microaggression and not just laugh it off or downplay it,” Washington said. “As coaches we have to be ready to help navigate our student-athletes through these moments.”
During her undergraduate days at Notre Dame, Washington wrote a paper in a first-year course only to have her professor tell her he wasn’t going to specifically accuse her, but he was not sure she’d actually written it. From then on, she often downplayed her writing, doing well enough to get good grades, but not showing her full ability. Washington said today’s student-athletes want the coaching community to address issues such as racism and sexism that impact their daily lives.
“I hope to contribute an awareness that there are so many ways coaches can continue to grow, so that we can serve our student-athletes on the highest level possible,” she said. “That growth doesn’t always have to come from an on-court basketball perspective. There are areas and ways that each of us can continue to be better leaders.”