ROTTERDAM – Three Mohonasen Central School District student athletes who helped bring to light a state athletics policy that unfairly targeted people of color have shared more of their story on a podcast through SUNY Schenectady County Community College that focuses on equity, diversity and inclusion.
Seniors and track and field teammates Bonnieta Supaul and Zionna Perez-Tucker and sophomore Zoe Miller were fast-tracked into the spotlight earlier this year after they learned that certain hair jewelry or adornments were prohibited by a policy set by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.
The podcast “Many Voices, One Call” highlights the experience the students had with their peers and their community while they tried to change the policy.
Now, though, the policy is new and states that, “hair adornments, including beads, may be worn provided they are secured and do not present a safety hazard to the player, teammates or opponent,” a change implemented by NYSPHSAA following a vote in April.
Beyond their helping to effect change, though, the girls said they learned what it meant to be heard and to see their culture matters.
“It feels like our voices are really being heard. It’s like a ripple effect – a good one,” Miller said. “Awareness is getting spread about this and like how we’re not just going to sit quietly and like let people take away a part of our culture.”
Perez-Tucker said she’s grown up wearing beads of various sizes and it’s part of the African culture.
“This is part of who we are,” Perez-Tucker said. “If we want to express it we should be allowed to express it.”
Part of the podcast touches on the girls having to explain to some people the importance of standing against the policy.
“I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with it or they don’t see the meaning behind it,” Perez-Tucker said.
But, once they explained the impact the policy had, she said, people were more open-minded. “We got to explain that and express that in the podcast as well.”
One of their biggest supporters was coach Bill Sherman.
“He just really wouldn’t back down until it was heard,” Supaul said.
In the podcast, Sherman talks about learning about beads, where to buy them and even how to put them in someone’s hair.
To have allies and the support of other community members, and even athletes at other schools, also helped make a difference.
“It was really nice,” Supaul said.
Perez-Tucker called it a breath of fresh air.
Miller said now it’s about continuing to spread that message of allyship, support, not backing down and fighting for what you believe in. They hope the podcast has encouraged more of that.
Perez-Tucker said it’s never too late to take a stance.
The hosts of this particular episode, history professor Babette Faehmel and Equal Opportunity Program Director Tiombé Farley, both said on the podcast they were inspired by the students.
“Looking at these very young people, small in stature and mighty in their solidarity and in their united front to tackle and dismantle this racist policy – I was awestruck,” Farley said.
She said what they did will not only inspire younger generations but has inspired adults.
She also said that SUNY Schenectady has a Diversity Equity and Inclusion initiative that they’re trying to implement across campus and what the girls did and the solidarity that was shown is a testament to diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I think it’s going to permeate and have a ripple effect and show and demonstrate that these acts of solidarity although may see small and insignificant are actually mighty and powerful and it demonstrates what you can do together and how you can work together and correct these ill policies and help marginalized students that may not otherwise feel comfortable speaking out and standing up for themselves,” Farley said.
Faehmel was unavailable for comment.
During the podcast, Sherman said the NYSPHSAA is creating a committee to review the organization’s policies. The girls said it’s a good step, and offered some suggestions.
“The easiest and simplest, but the most perfect and respectful way to say this is be open-minded,” Perez-Tucker said. “People are different. Everyone is different. If you have to do background or research or questions – ask them. Don’t just assume and don’t just be like, ugh, no.”
Having a diverse group of people reviewing the policies is also key, Miller said.
“If you want to make changes you have to have people from all sorts of backgrounds because that’s how the best changes happen,” she said.
The podcast can be found on Spotify.
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @SB_DailyGazette.