Dr. Tomika Ferguson, interim assistant dean and assistant professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, has taken crucial steps to improve the collegiate athletic experience for young Black women nationwide. She’s drawn from her own experience as a Division I college athlete and her doctorate research, which served as the inspiration for the Black Athlete Sister Circle (BASC).
Ferguson studied the gender and racial stereotypes faced by Black women as student-athletes for her dissertation at Indiana University Bloomington. After interviewing numerous athletes, she discovered a need for young Black women to have an environment where they can discuss their shared experiences under the common bond of college athletics. Black Athlete Sister Circle does just that.
“After learning from all these women, listening to their stories, hours and hours of just data and interviews, I got to the end and I realized that something was missing,” Ferguson told Monica ONYX host McNutt. “And so I had asked them, what is something that you would like to do [for] those who will come after you, who are Black women? They all described talking to each other. So I sat down and I created this framework in my dissertation for this thing called the Black Athlete Sister Circle.”
Ferguson received praise and positive feedback on her concept of BASC after presenting the idea at numerous college conferences. Kevin White, assistant athletic director at James Madison University, advocated for Ferguson to bring the program to life in 2016. Today, BASC is present in four universities throughout Virginia and has plans for continued growth.
“Once a month, Black women athletes from across majors and institutions and different sports come together, and we just talk about what it’s like to be Black, an athlete and a woman in a space,” Ferguson said. “It’s filling a gap that I really did not have in my undergraduate experience. And to be able to bring it and have people value it and come back every time, you know, that lets me know that something’s right.”
It may be surprising that BASC is perhaps the first program of its kind to fill the gap that Ferguson describes. However, the lack of equal representation in collegiate athletic administration certainly explains why the needs of Black women in particular are often left unmet in this space.
“We lack Black women in administration within college administration, and especially within the athletic space,” Ferguson said. “And this is not just a Black woman issue; let me be specific. It actually is an issue for minoritized bodies outside of just Black women. But in this case, there are very few black women leaders who lead visibly that we know about and who have a strong presence on their campuses.”
Black Athlete Sister Circle has already made an impact on its members, giving them a space to freely share their experiences and gain valuable mentorship. Of course, there is still a long way to go to make collegiate sports a comfortable and equal space for all athletes. Hopefully, with groups like BASC and courageous women like Dr. Ferguson, the culture surrounding college athletics can shift to better represent women of color, as well as other marginalized groups.