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Duke Softball Takes on Social Injustice Through Unity

I was hired five years ago and became the first female Black coach at Duke tasked with starting the softball program from scratch. It has been an incredible experience to launch a program here at Duke, and see it climb to a Top 25 Program in just three seasons. But building a diverse program with a culture of excellence, bonded together as a tight family unit, has also been at the forefront.

Growing up, there were no softball coaches that looked like me and very rarely did I have teammates of color. I wanted to be the coach that young players would look to and see doing things they didn’t think were possible. I’ve recruited a roster of incredible young women that are role models for aspiring young athletes, and I always tell them, “You aren’t responsible for how the world sees you, what matters most is how you see you”!

Unfortunately, racism and racial injustice are not new experiences for some of our student athletes. The deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the events that followed, made it a topic we couldn’t ignore. To be honest, I was sad and numb while trying to process what happened, and also trying to figure out how to discuss it with my four children at home. Our team was quarantined all over the country in their homes, so the separation and disconnect made it extremely difficult to know what our players needed. Several players were outspoken about what they needed and how they hoped the team would show support.

"Seeing the pain, fear, and anger in my teammates’ eyes will be burned in my mind forever. After the video of George Floyd, the news of Breonna Taylor, and the seemingly endless stream of tragedies, Duke Softball had to look in the mirror. We had to come together as a team, hand in hand, and take steps toward change,” stated Raine Wilson, Duke Softball Team Captain.

The first step was open dialogue – real authentic conversations where players could share their hurt, pains, fears and frustrations. But most importantly, what arose from this was empathy, trust, and a commitment to create real change. We held a virtual 8.46 miles run for George Floyd that team members shared on their personal social media platforms. One team member said, “Even though the pandemic did not allow us to complete the event together in person, everyone completed the run/walk in their own respective communities – uniting us despite the circumstances.”

Every year we have “Book Club” meetings where we read a book together as a team and small groups present each week on their respective chapters, and share important take-a-ways that apply to us as a team. We typically choose books that focus on team culture and leadership. This year, our Utility Player, Felise Collins, suggested we center on books around social injustice.

It was a GREAT idea! We went with The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It, by Jo Ann Gibson Robinson. The conversations that flowed from our joint exploration through the book were powerful. One of the presenting groups took us out onto our softball field and organized a Privilege Walk, which was one of the most impactful activities I’ve ever been a part of. It was extremely humbling to be the leader of this program and yet be the one standing at the back of the symbolic race. But I wasn’t there alone. There were other minority women standing at the back with me, not just Black women, but Latinas too. It was transformational – everyone walked away impacted in one way or another, but all of us more appreciative of our team diversity.

We are one within Duke Softball, so when one hurts, we all hurt. The opportunity to be there, learn more, and be vessels of change for our hurting teammates is one we have and will continue to be committed to. As one of the women on the team stated, “This whole experience has made our team better, and even influenced our team’s mantra for this year: Together We Will. No one on Duke Softball is left behind.”

By Marissa Young
Head Coach, Duke University Softball
© 2020 Duke Office for Institutional Equity

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