SAAC speaks through video series

Watch the video series here

While numbers in the record books will live forever, some members of the 2020-21 Student-Athlete Advisory Committee were looking for a different way to leave a lasting impact on Washburn University.
With athletic seasons up in the air and social justice movements taking place on the ground across the country, the group’s leaders did not want to be left on the sidelines when discussing issues relevant to the student-athletes. This led to the creation of a video series that took place over the spring semester and brought in a diverse group of speakers.
“Our student-athletes at the beginning of the fall semester had nothing to do,” said Kelsey Gordon, SAAC co-president and junior on the volleyball team. “We identified five different pillars in which we wanted to make a profound impact on the student community and on the Washburn campus, and one of them was social justice.”
It was a project with goals that did not come at a cheap price, but through the Washburn Day of Giving campaign and other student-run fundraisers, SAAC amassed over $7,000 to bring it to life. It also required a dedicated group of people to make it possible and move it in the right direction.
“She (Kelsey) came to me in the fall and said hey, this is what I want to do and that’s kind of where it started. Then we brought Hunter (Bentley) on board, and then I think things took off from there,” said Brittany Lauritsen, assistant athletic director, senior women’s administrator, and compliance director at Washburn.
Bentley leaped into her role as social justice education manager for the 2020-21 school year. She was hesitant to take the responsibility at first, but wanted to make an impact doing something important.
“I was like hey, we are right by Brown vs Board, maybe we should have someone come speak to us,” said Bentley, senior on the women’s basketball team. “Then Kelsey took it and blew it out of the water. She invited all these people and made it a really big thing for us.”
The group of Gordon, Bentley, and Lauritsen, along with Bruce Steinbrock, assistant athletic director for development, spent many hours filling whiteboards with notes and ideas to make sure the video series was as effective as they all hoped it would be.
What resulted was a seven-part series that featured 10 guest speakers including U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids and WNBA All-Star Napheesa Collier who served as the keynote speaker.
Going into the process, Gordon was hoping for an average of 30 students, faculty and staff members to attend each lecture. She was thrilled when that number was cleared for each one, with some topping out at nearly double what her initial goal was.
While Gordon and Bentley are used to playing in front of hundreds of people, moderating between speakers and listeners was a new challenge for them both.
In their time moderating, both Gordon and Bentley were able to take in the information and left the final lecture with a deeper understanding of the topics. They hoped that others used the opportunity in the same way.
“We just wanted to create a space to have people come and be educated and learn more about the world around us and what’s going on,” Bentley said.
Creating a space where people were more prone to listening to others share their experiences, rather than arguing or ignoring them, was part of what made Bentley want to get involved.
Lauritsen was excited to be involved with the series to raise the voices of the student-athletes and help raise awareness about all the different aspects of life that affect them. Awareness was also at the top of the list for Gordon.
“I wanted to provide a different perspective to our students on what’s been happening throughout our history in America and even throughout our history in Topeka,” Gordon said. “I wanted to create and provide a different perspective to our student-athletes.”
After seven sessions, all of the leaders were pleased with the response from people who attended or viewed the lectures posted online to, but each acknowledges that there is still more that needs to be done.
“There’s no point in stopping now. We have had success and we have more ideas and there are people that want to come and want to be there,” Bentley said.
Gordon says that while no final decisions have been made on what the next project will look like, things are in the works and she knows that because of the strong group, something great will happen.
Whatever initiative the student-athletes decide to take, Lauritsen will be there to make sure that their voices are heard.
“I’ve supervised SAAC since I came to Washburn in 2014 and you know, I think the best groups are the ones that use their voices outside of their sport. I think that this is a really good example of that,” Lauritsen said.