Alliance advances inclusion

MaKayla Woods and Elijah Mason

Advocates for societal change strive to create a thriving environment for black student-athletes

Women’s Soccer player Makayla Woods and discus-thrower Elijah Mason were primed for leadership early.

The daughter of a school principal and kindergarten teacher, Makayla grew up as a biracial kid in predominantly white Vancouver, Washington.

The son of a single mother and a father who passed away when Elijah was just 5 years old, the Track and Field standout was shaped by the sacrifices his mom made to give her three sons the best possible lives.

The pair has advanced the four-year-old Black Student-Athlete Alliance (BSAA) to heightened levels of collaboration with Athletic Department leadership. The organization’s mission is “to assemble community, promote diversity and increase opportunity for the lives of the Black Student-Athlete.”

“This isn’t just a black student-athlete fight. It’s our country’s fight for all people to live safely and be part of a just society,” explains Elijah, who was raised in Arizona. “That means having uncomfortable conversations to address what racism is.”

The Alliance proposed its most significant change to Athletic Department leaders last year, advocating for a new senior-level position to oversee diversity, equity and inclusion. The Department hired Sheridan Blanford for that new position early this year. In the fall, the BSAA spearheaded a voter initiative on campus, and plans are under way to increase mentorship opportunities.

It can be intimidating for black student-athletes to attend predominantly white institutions like Washington, notes Makayla.

“When you don’t see anyone who looks like you in a classroom, where some people feel you’re here just because you can play a sport, it can make it hard to dedicate yourself to school,” she explains. “Should I do pre-med or pursue my engineering dreams? Will I fit in?”

Elijah sums up the Alliance’s grandest goals for social justice that stretch beyond the athletic space.

“Ultimately, I want the best for everyone around me,” he concludes. “For the generations after me, for the kids I bring into the world someday, I need to do everything I can now to change things and create the best possible society for them.”