Leading the Charge: Student Athletes Create Meaningful Change at Fitchburg State

Tim Foley, Contributor

Perry Joubert and Lauren Riccardi are each graduate students at Fitchburg State, while also acting as captains of the Women’s Volleyball team. When the two aren’t donning the green and gold on the court, they’re busy heading the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) as co-presidents. 

SAAC is a committee made up of student athlete representatives from each of the varsity athletics teams, whose purpose is to discuss the current condition of the student athlete at the university. Part of that discussion is looking at how the student-athlete is impacted by factors outside of the university as well. 

As colleges across the country returned to classes in the fall of 2020, student activist groups used their platforms to quickly coordinate and speak out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in an effort to bring attention to the injustices suffered by the black community. Once the opportunity to be a part of the larger conversation surrounding larger social and racial issues within the community was at hand, Joubert, Riccardi and SAAC were quick to make sure that student athletes were a part of the discussion here in Fitchburg. SAAC was one of the driving forces in helping to coordinate the Unity Rally held on Sept. 22, 2020 on the steps of Thompson Hall. 

“I wanted to put our voices out there for the athletics community because we are a diverse group of people and I wanted everyone to feel included,” Joubert said. “I felt like putting the SAAC committee into a supporting position in order to help us go further with the movement. I think it was really important because I know a lot of our student athletes have experienced that sort of thing, and they’re already involved in this movement. Why not bring this to our campus community and get everyone involved in it?”

Now a year removed from the campaign, the presidents feel as though the rally has shifted perspectives on campus.

“This campus has a lot of political sides, where not everybody has a full understanding of what’s going on,” Riccardi said. “People have a better understanding of things because of what they hear. I think that [the rally] was the biggest thing that started the conversation and I feel like people became more understanding.”

Both Riccardi and Joubert understand the implications of being a student athlete and using their platform to be leaders within the campus community at large.

“Whether you’re an athlete or not, people are friends with athletes,” Joubert said. “Everywhere you go you are intertwined with an athlete. For example, our roommates aren’t athletes, but they hang out with us. “Everything that we learn from things like the Unity Rally, or whatever else we know, we use our voices to progress that message out to everybody else.”

“We’ve had big meetings with all of the other MASCAC schools and we’ve included the unity rally and how big of an impact it made on our school, hoping that they will follow in our footsteps with these types of rallies as well,” Riccardi said.

Helping to lead the charge on conversations surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion on campus is just one of the ways that student athletes at Fitchburg State university act as a pillar for their community. At other times, they are setting the table for younger athletes to become leaders in their own right as they continue their athletics careers into college.

“St. Bernard’s High School came to visit one of our games,” Riccardi said. “They come to look at our game and we’re their role models too. Seeing all of these girls and guys coming into sports, they’re looking at the players that have already been on the team. We have to model for everyone coming in that leadership starts right off the bat.

It’s that leadership which for Joubert & Riccardi culminated in the drive to lead SAAC to a meaningful place, and put student athletes on the forefront of taking actions and setting examples that help to bring change across campus. 

“We want to give our student athletes and our regular students the best experience they can have at Fitchburg, and part of that is having that conversation,” Joubert said. “We’re trying to bring everyone together and be like ‘what are the issues that you’re seeing, and how can we create that conversation?’”