Today’s NCAA Athletes: “This Generation Gives Me Hope”

Collegiate runners are increasingly flexing a different kind of muscle.

Anna Cockrell is a gifted hurdler, but her career at the University of Southern California will also be remembered for how she used her platform—an example of a growing number of NCAA track and field athletes who are using their clout on campus to make a difference.

Cockrell, who’s been outspoken about her depression and the importance of mental health for all, also joined with other USC athletes to create the United Black Student-Athletes Association, which advocates for a more inclusive environment within the university’s athletics department. Among the group’s requests: including student-athletes in decisions about the pandemic and return to campus, recognizing that COVID-19 disproportionately affects the Black community.

RELATED: New Running Industry Diversity Coalition Pushes for Equity and Inclusion

“College athletes seem to be all in, critically thinking about their roles and responsibilities and the platforms that they have,” says Victoria Jackson, a sports historian and assistant professor at Arizona State University, who was the 2006 NCAA 10,000-meter champion.

The pandemic has spurred other athletes across the country to action, too. At the College of William & Mary, for example, the women’s track and field team said it would not represent the institution in competition until officials reinstated the men’s track and field program, which had been eliminated like several other programs across the country due to budget cuts.

“We will begin a campaign of passive resistance to the unfair practices and policies of the College’s administration, including the dishonest manner in which these decisions were arrived at,” the team wrote in a letter to officials.

Not long after, William & Mary reinstated the men’s team. Thanks in no small part to the women who used their collective voice.

“This gives me hope, for sure,” Jackson says. “This college generation gives me hope.”

This profile was first published in the Winter 2021 print issue of Women’s Running as part of “Women Who Lead: Power Women of 2021” which celebrates 25 women who are reshaping the running industry for the better. You can see the full list of honorees here.