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In conversation with U of T’s BIPOC Varsity Association

The BVA executive team discusses the association’s projects and future plans
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From left to right, the BVA’s executive team: Jada Roach, Maya Ryan, Fiona Huang, Laura Valeria Rosales Vazquez, and Anesi Anyia. COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES
From left to right, the BVA’s executive team: Jada Roach, Maya Ryan, Fiona Huang, Laura Valeria Rosales Vazquez, and Anesi Anyia. COURTESY OF THE VARSITY BLUES

The BIPOC Varsity Association (BVA) was founded at the University of Toronto in 2020, and since then, it has organized a number of programs and events for students and faculty at U of T. This week, the BVA’s executive team shared some of their goals and future projects with The Varsity.

The BVA’s executive team consists of five individuals: Fiona Huang, Anesi Anyia, Jada Roach, Maya Ryan — all members of the Varsity Blues women’s track and field team — and Laura Valeria Rosales Vazquez, who is a part of the Varsity Blues women’s rowing team. There are also three BVA alumni relations team members — Mahal De La Durantaye, Avery Garrett-Patterson, and Sarah Kwajafa and two staff advisory members, named Debra Kriger and Leila Trei.

The BVA’s mission

The BVA’s mission statement is built on five values: accountability, community, education, representation, and opportunity.

The team explained in an email to The Varsity that the BVA was created by current and former student athletes at U of T. As a group, they wrote a letter to the university’s athletic department. They wrote, “the University of Toronto needs to start being held accountable for the many racial injustices and the history of systemic racism that still takes place today at the institution.” 

The BVA has organized a number of presentations in the past in which they spoke to members of the university administration, such as the dean of kinesiology, or to other Varsity Blues athletes. In November 2020, it organized an online Table Talk with Tamara Tatham, the head coach of the Varsity Blues women’s basketball team. The website for the Table Talk explains that at the event, Tatham spoke about “what it was like navigating high performance university sports as a Black student athlete, professional player, and coaching staff.”

The team is in the process of planning future events, as well. Later this February, they will deliver a presentation at the University of Toronto Schools to talk about the BVA and to discuss “what racism and microaggressions can look like.”

Each month, the BVA also publishes a newsletter, which, according to the executive team, “includes updates on the BVAs work as well as events, opportunities, and news going on within the BIPOC community.” This project was founded by Jada Roach, the BVA’s head of outreach and resources and a third-year student. 

The BVA was also involved in the creation of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Anti-Racism Project Report released in 2021. The OUA’s website explains that it undertook the project to spread awareness “about the demographics and experiences of student-athletes, coaches, and sport administrators across the [OUA].”

The future of the BVA

There are a number of projects that the BVA has planned for the future. The executive team wrote, “We have also been working with the University to begin mandatory Anti-Racism and Decolonization training for every varsity athlete and coach at the University of Toronto which will start in the summer of 2022.”

The BVA’s new mentorship program will also commence at the end of February. This program, which offers opportunities to both first-year and upper-year students, was created by Anesi Anyia, who is the head of education and mentorship at the BVA. 

“The first-year program allows first-year student-athletes to be mentored by upper-years in hopes to gain advice, knowledge, and support during their first year,” wrote the executive team. “Many know that [the] transition from high school to university can be very stressful and different for BIPOC individuals so creating that community of support is very important.” 

Similarly, the upper-year program pairs students with U of T alumni, who can offer support and advice as students prepare to finish university.

The executive team also said that the BVA will soon launch a new t-shirt campaign, which will be available to both varsity athletes and members of the U of T community. “I can’t share too much about it right now, but we are really excited,” wrote a member of the executive team. “Keep an eye out on the Varsity Blues Instagram [and] you will see updates on the campaign fairly soon!”

Looking to the future, the executive team wrote that the BVA plans to “focus more on creating a strategic approach to increasing the representation in all levels of varsity [sports].”

“This is very important to us because we want Varsity to start to look more like the racialized groups we are trying to support,” the executives added.