Senior student athlete organizes student panel to amplify diversity and inclusion

Minority student athletes share campus experiences on zoom webinar

Crawford Humphreys

A group of six current and former student-athletes of color spoke to the Washington and Lee community to highlight the experiences of minority student athletes on campus.

The Representation, Inclusion, Support, Engagement (R.I.S.E.): The Athlete Experience panel coincided with the NCAA’s Diversity and Inclusion week, which aims to promote the voices of minority student-athletes and create inclusive college environments across the country.

Erin Hughes, ‘21, organized the zoom event for Nov. 8. Hughes is a captain of the women’s basketball team and an ambassador for Washington and Lee’s Office of Inclusion and Engagement, which helped to sponsor the event.

“In the past six months [the women’s basketball team] has been actively discussing the value of representation, inclusion, support, and engagement within the W&L community,” said Hughes. “These conversations inspired me to use my role as an OIE ambassador to host an event that combines my love for social justice with my passion for athletics.”

The group of panelists included lacrosse player Kai Nelson, ‘21, Erin Addison, ‘22 from the women’s basketball team, Richie Manigault, ‘23 and Cheick Toure, ‘23 from the men’s basketball team, and Katelyn Gamble, ‘24, from the women’s track and field team.

The panel also included former football and track athlete Jimmie Johnson, ‘20, who was hired over the summer to return to Lexington as an assistant football coach for the Generals.

“What we really want is to help these students of color find this outlet we have,” said Manigault. “Whether that’s in people of color or people who aren’t of color, just somebody for them to go to and talk about this stuff.”

The panel dove into many questions concerning the student experience at W&L for student-athletes of color, including experiences with racism from Lexington residents and the university’s confederate ties.

“In the heat of battle, [the school’s name] is not really something you’re thinking about,” said Toure. “But for me personally it’s always something that’s in the back of my head. I mean the whole connotation with the name, it’s always something you’re kinda thinking about.”

The six athletes also discussed the large difference in experiences between minority student-athletes and minority students, who they said often lack the support and social advantages that athletes have.

“It’s a completely different experience. Immediately stepping on campus, you have a social group you’re a part of…you also have administrative support,” said Johnson. “Being in athletics, most of the time even though we’re minorities, we’re still in the majority spaces…you just have a complete leg up.”

But most importantly, each athlete emphasized the positive support and inclusive culture their respective teams and coaches continue to foster on and off the field. 

“I knew I would be one of the few black faces, so I was unsure of what was going to happen,” said Nelson. “It was a great experience to come [to W&L] and be welcomed with open arms by the lacrosse team. They did everything they could to make me feel at home.”

The panel also highlighted the Perry Minority Athlete Coalition, which was founded over the summer by Nelson, Addison, and men’s lacrosse players Johnny Hsu and Danny Kung in the wake of the tragic killing of George Floyd. The group is named after former W&L football and track star Anthony Perry, who became the first African-American inducted into the Washington and Lee Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995.

The coalition aims to bring together minority athletes at Washington and Lee, including women and those in the LGBTQ+ community, in order to raise awareness about their experiences. They said they hope to be the ones leading diversity training across campus instead of third-party adults.

“My dream is to eliminate the two-hour diversity and inclusion Zoom training,” said Addison. “I’d rather it just be you talk to your peers that are a part of this coalition and you just learn and listen.” 

And, the athletes involved hope that conversations like these continue across campus to strengthen the Washington and Lee community and bring awareness to the experiences of minority students.

“Having things like this and getting guys and girls together and really speaking our minds and making where we stand clear, I think it only benefits the community,” said Nelson. “I know so many people have learned so much from that and perceive things differently because of it.”

More information about both the Perry Minority Athlete Coalition and the R.I.S.E. panel can be found at