Fordham Connect: Support for Student-Athletes, By Student-Athletes

Fordham Connect will help student-athletes navigate these difficult times and other issues that arise in their time at Fordham. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Fordham Connect will help student-athletes navigate these difficult times and other issues that arise in their time at Fordham. (Courtesy of Twitter)

2020 has been a difficult year for many, and college athletes around the country have been adversely affected with many conferences opting to postpone fall seasons until the spring. Fordham student-athletes are also subject to this, as Fordham Football, which plays in the Patriot League, won’t play until the spring. Neither will most of Fordham’s other sports, as the Atlantic 10 announced in July that it would take similar action. 

In response, a group of Fordham’s student-athletes has come up with a plan to help each other through these difficult times.

Fordham Connect is a group that established itself this summer in order to support the mental health of student-athletes in various ways. The group will hold biweekly meetings in which athletes can discuss various issues that affect them.

Junior Maggie Grossman, a goaltender for the Fordham women’s soccer team, said that the idea first came about her freshman year when Fordham Athletics brought in a speaker who facilitated team-building exercises with Fordham’s student-athletes. This led to people sharing intimate personal experiences of their childhood, and Grossman realized that they hadn’t had a safe space to share those experiences before.

Earlier this year, as COVID-19 spread across the United States and sent college students home across America, and after racial injustice protests around the country following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Grossman reached out to some friends in the Fordham Athletics community to start a group like Connect, to help Fordham athletes work through these unique challenges.

“I think a big thing, and a thing that drives Connect the most, is just being comfortable with being vulnerable and being comfortable with struggling,” Grossman said. “Because at the end of the day, you could be getting personal records every day in the weight room and performing on the field and you could be coming home and having breakdowns, which I think that the majority of athletes face.”

To help with these unique challenges, Fordham Connect also features three smaller subgroups. Jenna Devine, a junior on the women’s soccer team, will helm the subgroup for female athletes. Jade Dyer-Kennedy, a junior jumper on the Fordham track & field team, will be the executive for the BIPOC subgroup. Jaden Vazquez, a junior linebacker on the Fordham football team, will lead the LGBTQ+ subgroup. Fordham Connect will also create other subgroups if athletes suggest them. Fordham Connect is also getting an assist from Fordham’s Senior Associate Athletic Director, Djenane Paul, who is serving as an advisor to the group.

Devine, the leader of the subgroup for female athletes, wants to help her fellow athletes feel seen and understood. Calling the opportunity to be a Fordham Connect leader one she “couldn’t pass up,” she said it’s important to remember that student-athletes often go through universal experiences.

“The biggest thing I plan on emphasizing to my peers is that all student-athletes share similar experiences that they might not realize so my overall goal is to help show them that they are not alone,” she said. 

Dyer-Kennedy emphasized the importance of the BIPOC subgroup for athletes like her. She said that outside of four or five teammates with whom she could share her experiences of being a Black woman and a Black female athlete at Fordham, she didn’t really have anyone else she could open up to. She wants to help athletes going through similar experiences who may have a harder time finding their own personal support groups.

“Making that safe space, that maybe I didn’t necessarily have with a larger group, that’s what I want to get out of it, and I’m really excited for it,” Dyer-Kennedy said.

Vazquez, who is bisexual and heading up the LGBTQ+ subgroup, has similar aspirations. He came out last year and received ample support from his teammates, but he wants to inspire others to be comfortable with their own identities and feel comfortable with themselves.

“I just want to make people feel comfortable within sports,” he said. “There’s not that many open spaces for LGBTQ athletes to come together and talk.” He also said he hopes the group can help people deal with discrimination they may face.

Currently, group leaders are doing group training with Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) as to how to facilitate meetings and have efficient discussions without getting on tangents that don’t benefit the conversation. 

Since the group went public in August, it has been met with positivity, both inside and outside of the Fordham Athletics community. The need for athletes to support each other through these tough times is critical, and a group like this is necessary even without a global pandemic and the current national situation.

The athletes leading this group realize the importance of what they are doing right now.

“When you create a space for people to talk and people to normalize different things, people feel more accepted, even if it’s not just the LGBT community,” Vazquez said. “I know there are some teams where there might be only one Black athlete, and for an athlete to come into a space with other athletes on different teams would be very helpful, and I think it’s gonna be impactful for a lot of people.”

“For a lot of us, athletics is a large part — multiple hours of the day, multiple hours of the weekend — and our team is our support system,” Dyer-Kennedy said. “So getting us together in that group where, now you know that you have more than your team, you have other athletes, you have people who know what’s going on, to help you out. So I think that’s kind of the big thing, to make that support system, while we don’t know if we’re gonna be practicing and competing and stuff like that.”

Devine says that while the pandemic has halted many team activities, the time has allowed athletes to pause and think about what is important to them.

“I think Fordham Connect couldn’t have been established at a better time,” she said. “It’s hard for all athletes to not be competing due to COVID-19, but this time has allowed us to pause and begin a group dedicated to improving our athletic community.”

“I think it’s even more important to be able to identify the fact that as athletes, yes, we go through certain things that maybe regular students don’t, but you’re not solely defined by whether you can play or not play,” Grossman said.

This article has been updated to reflect Paul’s role in advising Fordham Connect.