Stony Brook approaches new SUNY resolution to support LGBT student-athletes

When former Stony Brook University volleyball coach Theresa Tiso arrived on campus for her job interview in 1981, she noticed something different.

“I’m walking across campus to the interview and I see a sign with the fist that says ‘gay pride’,” she said. “I saw it all over and it was just accepted, and that turned the way that I looked at Stony Brook.”

Now, after coaching for 19 years and teaching physical education and physical therapy for 15, Tiso, who currently teaches Sociology of Sport at Stony Brook, is thrilled to see that the State University of New York (SUNY) is joining the movement to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) student-athletes.

On October 25, 2014, the SUNY Faculty Senate passed a resolution, which requests that all SUNY institutions with athletic programs develop programs to support LGBT student-athletes, coaches and staff and prevent anti-LGBT bias and discrimination for the 2015-2016 academic year. According to the resolution, 55 of the 64 SUNY campuses have athletic programs, making up nearly 800 teams with 14,000 student-athletes.

“It’s been an issue for many, many years,” Tiso said.  “We’ve talked about it but usually it was so marginalized as a topic or it was a little tiny bit of the topic in athletics. Everybody knew about it but not everybody embraced it.”

The resolution comes less than a year after former University of Missouri and St. Louis Rams football player Michael Sam revealed his sexuality in February 2014 before the National Football League (NFL) Draft, making him the first publicly gay football player in the NFL and bringing the topic of sexuality in college and professional sports to light.

The resolution

An associate professor of Humanities, Timothy W. Gerken, at Morrisville State College, a SUNY school in upstate New York, produced the original draft of the resolution after learning not about Sam but instead that SUNY New Paltz was the only SUNY school participating in the Athlete Ally program. Gerken is also a member of the The Committee on Diversity and Cultural Competence in the SUNY Faculty Senate (UFS).

As per its website, the Athlete Ally program is a nonprofit organization that “provides public awareness campaigns, educational programming and tools and resources to foster inclusive sports communities.” 51 universities across the country are currently involved with the program.

“As far as I know, there are not any University systems that have adopted these policies,” Gerken said in an email. “However, most university systems have done a good job of ending bias against athletes of color and women. There is no reason why they can not move to address anti-LGBT bias.”

Gerken said that the resolution also presents SUNY with an opportunity to make college sports a more accepting place for LGBT athletes.

“SUNY may be doing a good job making campuses inviting for LGBTQAI students, I am still not sure that athletes and coaches are comfortable coming out to their teams,” he said. “SUNY has a chance to be a leader nationally by reaching out to all student athletes by reassuring them that if they come to a SUNY campus as an out athlete they will be treated the same as the rest of their teammates.”

None of the University Faculty Senators voted against the resolution, Gerken said, but some did abstain from voting. While he was unsure of their reasoning, UFS Senator Frederick Walter, who served as president of the Stony Brook University Faculty Senate for four years, said that abstentions are not always black and white.

“Some people abstain from voting because they don’t understand the issues,” Walter said. “Some because they think it may not go far enough or it may go too far.”

The resolution gives links to different organizations related to LGBT-issues in sports but makes no suggestions to the implementation of specific programs. Walter said that this may actually work in its favor because the resolution does apply to 55 SUNY campuses.

“Of course it’s vague,” Walter said. “There’s no way you’re going to get 60 or 80 senators to agree on something that’s too specific. It can’t be done. Vagueness can be a virtue.”

Stony Brook Athletics’ approach

Stony Brook University, which boasts NCAA Division I status for all 20 of its athletic teams, is among the 55 campuses that is about to embark on developing such programs.

For Women’s Lacrosse player Alyssa Guido, there’s never a feeling of discomfort within her team about the subject.

“My team loves it, they’re very open about it,” Guido said. “We all kid around and joke and they make me feel comfortable and I’ve never had a problem with coaches, players, other teammates, other teams in general.”

While the resolution is new, different members of the Athletics department already work  towards making Stony Brook a safe and accepting environment for its student-athletes and staff.

The conference that Stony Brook participates in, The America East, was the first NCAA conference to officially partner with the initiative. This past summer, several Stony Brook student-athletes created a video to show support for the cause, in which SBU volleyball player Laura Hathaway said, “I’m gay and I’m a Seawolf.”

Current graduate assistant to Athletics administration and former volleyball player Greta Strenger said Stony Brook’s student-athletes have been particularly involved in the You Can Play Project, which works towards “ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation,” according to its mission statement.

“All of our student-athletes have had a really positive experience with [the You Can Play Project],” Strenger said. “They’ve all sort of bought into the message and think it’s an important one to send to our department and the university community and fans as well.”

But the process is ongoing. Strenger and Executive Associate Director of Stony Brook Athletics Donna Woodruff both confirmed that the department will continue to participate in the You Can Play Project but is also working on further including diversity initiatives into its new five year strategic plan.

“Within that there’s a great commitment to diversity and throughout the department, whether it’s our student-athletes [or] staff,” Woodruff said. “So there will be some other things that we’ll make sure certainly stay at the forefront.”

As for LGBT support programs for the next academic year, Woodruff said that she sees the time as more of a reflection period for Athletics rather than a crunch time to meet a quota.

“I don’t think any resolution is saying that you have to develop 15 new things just for the sake of developing them,” she said. “The point is to make sure that athletic departments are aware that this is an important thing and if you’re already doing 15 things, then you’ve already met the resolution.”

The athletics departments at the University at Albany and Binghamton University, two other Division I SUNY institutions, were not able to be reached for comment.

Outside of Athletics

Walter said that during review of the resolution, some senators were curious about why it only targets SUNY athletic departments.

“I think there was some discussion on ‘why are we focusing in on athletics?’,” Walter said. “‘Why don’t we make this campus-wide?’”

John Martin, a graduate assistant in LGBTQ Services, explained that much more goes into making this initiative campus-wide than people realize.

“It takes labor,” Martin said. “You have to educate people. You have to put on trainings. You have to put on programs. That’s all hours of work.”

Martin pointed out that Binghamton University has “not a single professional staff person working in LGBTQ support services.”

The list of resources for LGBTQ students on Binghamton’s website shows links to student-run organizations, which Martin said have faculty advisors but it’s students advising other students. There are also links to several off-campus resources in the Binghamton area.

The description of Binghamton’s Safe Zone program says that “its mission is to create a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment for all LGBTQ people” and that “allies of the Safe Zone have undergone training and are supportive of LGBTQ individuals.” However, the link provided to Safe Zone program leads to a page that says the page cannot be found.

Chris Tanaka is Stony Brook’s Coordinator for LGBTQ Services. The 2014-2015 academic year is the first year that LGBTQ Services is its own stand-alone program. In previous years, LGBTQ Services fell under SBU’s Center for Prevention and Outreach. She is currently the only full time staff member working in LGBTQ Services. As a graduate student, Martin works in LGBTQ Services about 20 hours per week.

“We currently do have some non-discrimination policies in place that apply to the University as a whole so I guess it’s interesting that it’s just sort of targeting LGBTQ athletes,” Tanaka said about the resolution. “I’m all about having more programs that educate about gender and sexuality in general so if that’s just one more place that it’s happening, I’m all for it.”

Tanaka said that Stony Brook’s Safe Spaces program, similar to Binghamton’s Safe Zones, has a two part training with an introduction course and a workshop that are vital for an individual on campus to become an ally of LGBTQ individuals and be considered a “safe space.” Since its inception in 2008, Tanaka said that Stony Brook has trained around 400 individuals.

According to Walter, athletics departments and universities generally have an advantage in taking on projects like this resolution, which is often “not fair” to the general student body.

“Athletes are sort of a ‘pampered minority’,” Walter said. “The D-I athletes have a role to play for the university, they have to compete for the university, carry the university’s logo around the state and the country…It’d be fantastic if all of our students could be treated as well as the athletes are in terms of academic support but they aren’t. Why? Money. It’s no excuse for anything but we take care of them because they’re a small, isolated easily-identifiable subset of people. But for the general population, we don’t have the resources to treat everyone as well.”

Changing the game

Guido said that although her teammates are LGBT student-athletes, often times athletes may feel like they may create awkwardness within the team and therefore may not feel comfortable coming out or being open about their sexuality. “The team chemistry [might not] be there,” she said. “[There could be] inter-relationships, out-of-relationships, things just get uncomfortable for people, things like that.”

For Gerken, the resolution is more than just creating programs to boost awareness, but to also change the mindset on LGBTs in sports.

“We need to end homophobia on the field and in the locker rooms. There needs to be work done to end anti-LGBT language and discriminatory actions,” he said. “Many athletes that use this language may not realize they have LGBT teammates and may not even seem themselves as biased. The education these programs provide would help address these issues.”

Both Gerken and Tiso were coaching college sports (Gerken was a wrestling coach) 30 years ago and said that the outlook on LGBTs in sports has generally evolved for the better since then.

“I felt like a load was lifted off my shoulders when I came here [to Stony Brook],” Tiso said about when she took the coaching job at SBU. “I could see the inclusion, even if it wasn’t perfect, it was there. They’re such a diverse campus and working hard to include people.”

“Our society has changed,” Gerken said. “We need to keep changing. We will be successful when the question is simply “What is the most difficult part of being a student-athlete.”

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On reporting death: I am a Seawolf, too

When you get a call saying that a fellow student may have committed suicide on campus, your heart drops.

It is an awful thing to hear. Your mind runs at a million miles a minute with all sorts of thoughts, but you keep asking yourself, “why?”

For Kelly, Arielle and I as news editors, it is no different. But then we run.

I was at the scene when University Police Department and Suffolk County Police Department officers were conducting the initial investigation at Roosevelt Quad on Tuesday, Dec. 2. The three of us took this very seriously, which is why we did not bother trying to find out who on our staff was closest in proximity. We went ourselves.

I saw students around us with tears rolling down their faces. I had to swallow the knots in my throat and bite the insides of my cheeks to keep my own tears from falling.

As the campus newspaper of record, The Statesman is obligated to disperse information to the campus community that affects the campus community. When I initially found out that a student may have possibly taken his own life at Stimson College, I felt what you all felt. But as a reporter, I have a responsibility to you, the readers, to find out what happened. This is not to say that I suffer more than you do; that is not true at all. But my experience is different, and it is one that is hard for most people to understand.

Kelly, Arielle and I know full well that in a situation like this, the last thing a person wants to do is speak to a reporter. If you witness something like that, we know how terrifying and downright annoying it can be when a reporter asks you what you saw—you do not know if you know what you saw, much less how to talk about it for publication.

It is scary for us too. We know you are distraught and we never know how you are going to react to us. But we have to go for it because we are the only people who can humanize the story. When we ask you what you know about someone, we are not trying to fill space in our paper. We want them to be remembered as who they were and what they meant to you, not by how they left us.

Our angle is not that a person died on campus. It is that our community lost a Seawolf.

When publications like Newsday and The New York Daily News pick up a story like this, more likely than not, it was a slow news night for them.

At The Statesman, that is certainly not the case. We know how deeply an event like this resonates with the campus community. We know that you are counting on us for information because we are here.  We are not in Melville, N.Y. and we are not in New York City. We are at Stony Brook.

We recognize that verification is crucial to journalism, particularly in sensitive matters. We know other news organizations have published stories that included speculation on details about the manner of the student’s death—details that we know were not confirmed on the record by UPD or SCPD. We know those details were not confirmed because we asked the authorities. Several times.

This is one of the many reasons I value my working relationships with groups like UPD and SCPD. They understand better than most people how vital accuracy is and how detrimental a factual error can be. This is why Kelly, Arielle and I waited until we received official, on-the-record comments from them. We have been working with them for years and we trust them to do their job just as they, and hopefully you, trust us to do ours.

If we—Kelly, Arielle and I­—were slow to get the information about this out to you, we sincerely apologize. We never want to keep you waiting. But know in a case as sensitive as this one, we decided that accuracy trumped timeliness and it was better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing.

We decided it was better to publish what you already knew from the campus-wide emails than to re-publish speculation from other organizations. We wanted to make sure every word of every sentence that we put out was 1,000 percent factually and grammatically accurate.

Our job is to sift through, clarify and package this information so you do not have to. We in no way want to do any more damage than has already been done.

If you have any questions or concerns about the story we published, feel free to email us at news@sbstatesman.com.

We are incredibly sorry for the loss of a fellow Seawolf. Our thoughts are with his family and friends in this trying time.

This article was originally published in the Dec. 8, 2014 issue of The Statesman.

Jessica Ogunnorin: champion of change

Jessica Ogunnorin, above, comes to Stony Brook from Greece. The senior guard is vocal about her ability to embrace change. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

Jessica Ogunnorin, above, comes to Stony Brook from Greece. The senior guard is vocal about her ability to embrace change. (HEATHER KHALIFA / THE STATESMAN)

Senior guard Jessica Ogunnorin is definitely a long way from home, but is making the most of her last season at Stony Brook.

Hailing from Athens, Greece, adjusting is what she does best. Before joining the Seawolves, Ogunnorin spent two seasons with the University of California–Riverside Highlanders. In California, she found her work was cut out for her.

“The major difference is athleticism,” she said. People here [in the United States] are stronger, faster, more explosive.”

But she also found the American players are more on her level. Eye-level, that is.

“I think something I had to deal with and understand was the difference in height,” Ogunnorin said. “I was always one of the tallest players back in Greece so I used to be the post back there. Then I come here and I see people my height playing the three position, so that was an adjustment.”

“One of the strongest parts of my game was rebounding, even back at home,” she said. “I’ve just embraced that and I love rebounding so it’s really one of my goals to rebound as much as I can whenever we play.”

After arriving at SBU, Ogunnorin had to adjust to new teammates and new coaches. Former head coach Beth O’Boyle’s departure meant more change, which she welcomed with open arms.

“I left my old school, I came here, I learned how to adjust to coaches,” Ogunnorin said. “At this point, I embrace changes, I think that changes are always for the better, so one of the things that’s really important is just buying into the new concepts, the new ways of playing, and we’ll get the best out of it.”

Ogunnorin said bringing her California experiences to New York only helped her grow as a player and a person.

“Prior to going to my last school, I hadn’t even been to the United States so it definitely helped me,” she said. “I learned a lot about the culture, the style of game, my first team was really a team full of athletes so it really prepared me for this conference and any conference I would go to. I learned a lot from that experience and I try to take everything that I learned from there and use it for the better.”

But after sitting out her sophomore season, she made a big impact at Stony Brook her junior year, which she started out unsure if she would even play.

“For me, it was really like a gift because I transferred from a D-I and we weren’t sure that I was going to play so I had to wait from the NCAA so I was really grateful for that,” Ogunnorin said. “Prior to last year, I had sat out so I was really glad I was given a chance to be part of the team that makes such history.”

Part of making Seawolves history included breaking Albany’s 38 conference game winning streak.  On March 1, 2014, Ogunnorin was the top scorer against Albany with 18 points, picking up nine rebounds along the way.

“It was a really big thing for us,” she said. “Albany is one of the best teams in the conference and we respect them and their work and everything. It was important for us to know that we’re able to do that and by being consistent and focused, we can have good results.”

But to be named to the America East All-Championship team, the work started on the West Coast.

“One of the main reasons I decided to come to the U.S. was to be challenged,” she said. It was really tough in the beginning as a freshman [because] I wasn’t as strong as I am now. I think the way I overcame that was by lifting, focusing on just getting stronger, eating better, just being in the best shape I could.”

Now as a senior, Ogunnorin said she wants to take on a larger leadership role on the team. This year, she and Sabre Proctor are the only two seniors on the roster.

“I want to be able to give back now,” she said. “All the things that I learned from transferring, different coaches…I told myself that I would give back, teach all the values and habits that I learned, and just try to be a really good role model for my teammates on the court and off the court.”

As for personal goals, Ogunnorin said she just wants to enjoy her last season as a college basketball player.

“I want to be the best athlete [I’ve become] all these years,” she said. “I told myself I want to have really good experiences and memories with my teammates and make the most out of it and give my all.”

This article was originally published in the Nov. 3 issue of The Statesman.

SBU Taandava’s Jana Seva: Classical Indian Dance for a Cause

Founded in 2013, Taandava is Stony Brook University’s first Indian classical dance team. On Thursday, Oct. 23, the group hosted its first event, Jana Seva: Indian Classical Dance for a Cause, to raise money to help children affected by the civil war in Sri Lanka.

This was originally published on sbstatesman.com on Oct. 26, 2014.

Sports Highlights: Men’s Soccer vs UMass Lowell

The Stony Brook Seawolves suffered a 2-1 home loss to UMass Lowell on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014 in the America East Conference. This video was originally published on sbstatesman.com

 

MEN’S SOCCER: Stony Brook vs. Fairleigh Dickinson

In its second home game of the 2014 season, the Stony Brook University Men’s Soccer team tied 0-0 against Fairleigh Dickinson University after failing to score in double overtime on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. The Seawolves entered the match coming off their 3-0 home opener win against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks on Friday, Sept. 5, 2014.

Former SBU Women’s Basketball head coach O’Boyle prepares for new challenges at VCU

O’Boyle led the Seawolves to 24 wins in the 2013-14 season. (PHOTO CREDIT: AMERICA EAST)

O’Boyle led the Seawolves to 24 wins in the 2013-14 season. (PHOTO CREDIT: AMERICA EAST)

Former Stony Brook Women’s Basketball coach Beth O’Boyle may be 395 miles away at Virginia Commonwealth University, but part of her is still in Stony Brook. Continue reading →