Student Athlete Inclusion Coalition strives for diversity


JD Conte

Suffolk University’s Ridgeway building, home of Suffolk athletics

After The Journal published a report detailing a student’s experience with discrimination and diversity issues within Suffolk University’s athletics department last April, Ashley Cassino-Henriquez, a freshman at the time, felt “heartbroken” reading the story of Samari Winklaar, who played on the women’s basketball team during the 2018-2019 season.

Cassino-Henriquez, a forward on the women’s soccer team, had been on primarily white sports teams when she was younger and understood the feeling of being the “outsider” that Winklaar described. When Jeff Juron, the men’s basketball coach, emailed the department last spring about bringing a Student-Athlete Inclusion Coalition to Suffolk, Cassino-Henriquez thought about how Winklaar’s experience may have changed if a group of advocates for student-athletes of color existed during her time at Suffolk.

“There’s a lot of things that go unsaid between athletes,” Cassino-Henriquez said. “If they had a place to come talk to and know that they’re heard, especially in that situation, we could’ve addressed it in a different way.” 

Cassino-Henriquez attended the initial meeting organized by Juron last semester. Now the Vice President of SAIC, she met with a group of other student-athletes and athletics staff last week to discuss the coalition’s goals for the year and its mission as an organization. 

The coalition is not only focused on assisting and elevating the voices of student-athletes of color but any student-athlete who belongs to a minority group. 

One of the staff members in attendance was new Associate Athletics Director Adam Skaggs, who was hired by Suffolk in August, made possible by an NCAA grant that awards funding for Division III schools to increase the representation of ethnic and gender minorities in administrative positions within athletics departments. 

Suffolk was one of eight schools to receive the grant this year. The grant provides funding for “full-time, mid-to senior-level athletics administration positions during a five-year commitment,” according to the NCAA’s website.

Skaggs feels his most important role as associate athletics director is his ability to be another resource to student-athletes in addition to their coaches and other administrators. His goal is to make being on a sports team at Suffolk “the most relaxing, enjoyable and exciting experience for student-athletes.”

Skaggs was interested in assisting SAIC from the moment he was hired and helped students connect with Suffolk’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion to begin making connections with other student organizations on campus to develop programming for the upcoming year. 

Kiara Wilson, a junior midfielder on the women’s soccer team, also attended the initial meeting of SAIC last spring. She noted the low number of student-athletes of color at Suffolk as one of the issues SAIC wants to focus on as an organization. 

“You can see that each sports team may have one or two students of color and we want to bring more diversity to the athletics department,” Wilson said.

She encouraged any student-athletes interested in joining the coalition to attend upcoming meetings and events hosted by the group. While membership is currently only open to student-athletes, the coalition is looking to work with other student organizations committed to diversity, equity and inclusion on campus for future events.

“The more advocates we have, the better,” Wilson said. 

Follow Leo on Twitter @Leowoods108