Seton Hall University Athletics announced the installment of its new “HALLin This TOGETHER” program via Twitter on Aug. 17 to help foster and continue dialogue about the ongoing social injustices across the United States.
The initiative is led by associate athletics director Roberto Sasso, who also oversees the department’s H.A.L.L. Program (Helping Athletes Learn to Be Leaders) and has worked with students on a holistic since for the past seven years.
This past summer, Associate Dean Majid Whitney and Vice President of Student Services Dr. Shawna Cooper-Gibson helped Sasso and the department put together focus groups to collect information and suggestions from student-athletes and staff members from all 14 programs. Cooper-Gibson and Whitney moderated three predominantly student-athlete groups and a department-wide group to in the build-up to this initiative’s introduction.
With the next presidential election nearly three months away, Sasso said he felt that the biggest focus for the initiative this semester should be civic engagement. He plans to work closely with the Student Activities Board (SAB) to ensure all eligible student-athletes are registered to vote and promote voter registration to the general student body.
“The way professional athletes are using their social media platforms [to continue these conversations] is something our student-athletes have done, too,” Sasso said. “It’s on a smaller scale because they obviously don’t have the same platforms, but it’s about allowing them to [promote these actions]. Maybe they can take over one of the sports team pages to allow them to share these ideas to a bigger platform.”
Sasso said the Big East’s recent partnership with the Ross Initiative in Sports Equality (RISE) is also a resource he hopes to tap into as the initiative gains momentum at Seton Hall. RISE works with organizations across the country to help implement changes in communities to foster proper education and promotion of civic engagement and voter registration. Sasso said he first came across RISE at a Big East retreat last summer and has been actively working to get representatives to come to Seton Hall’s campus to speak about these topics.
HALLin This TOGETHER will go beyond awareness in civic engagement. Sasso wants it to educate student-athletes and staff members on racism and social injustices that still exist within the United States today. One major concern derived from the focus groups was the lack of proper education on these topics among athletes and staff members.
After an activity where Sasso read and discussed the book White Fragility at the Big East’s annual Conversations for Change conference, he said he wanted to implement a similar informal style of discussion about these topics. Whether it be assigning mandatory readings or watching documentaries in group settings, he said his plan is to be as open and accommodating to different styles of providing student-athletes with the resources they need to learn about these issues.
“We want to make sure we’re developing good people,” Sasso said. “[These discussions] are void of leadership right now across the country, and I feel like we can slot into those roles. This affects so many people in our small community alone, and we need to be leading that charge. Student-athletes are very respected on campus for the status they have, and they need to be held accountable to that level, too. They need to be the ones in general taking charge of this initiative.”
Though the program is still in its infancy, Sasso already has a catalog of future ideas to implement into the program as well as a plan on how to introduce incoming student-athletes to the ways they can get involved with the initiative. Amid the concern of COVID-19, the department’s annual return-to-school barbecue has been moved to an online call to address plans for the upcoming semester. During this call, Sasso will give the first of what will be many rundowns of how exactly the initiative will work and the opportunities to get involved that are available to student-athletes.
Sasso said the next step for the initiative is to begin working closely with the surrounding neighborhoods near the South Orange campus. While the department already sends athletes to exercise with and read to the local grammar school children, the idea is to now bring what the student-athletes are learning through this initiative into the classrooms of younger generations, he said. By having the examples of Seton Hall’s student-athletes to look toward, Sasso said he believes they can impact the mindsets of the young individuals they visit in these communities.
“We want to show [the local children] these student-athletes who some of them have already overcome so much just to get to college and be a student-athlete,” Sasso said. “We want to say, ‘You can do this, too.’ It may or may not be a little tougher for some of them, but the model’s right here and this is what it looks like.”
Justin Sousa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.