Episode 2: Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Sports, Society, and Social Change, discusses the growing field of sports and society studies and examine how it can be applied to much broader questions of race, identity, and politics in the United States.

Episode Transcript

[ Music ]

Vincent Del Casino: Welcome to this episode of The Accidental Geographer. I am the accidental geographer, Vincent Del Casino. With me today is Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Sports, Society, and Social Change, and Associate Professor of African-American Studies here at San Jose State University.

Today we talk about the growing field of sports and society studies, focusing in particular on the work of Dr. Carter-Francique and her efforts to understand the complex lives of black, female student athletes. This wide-ranging conversation shows us how the study of sports today can be applied to a much broader questions of race, identity, and politics in the United States. So, let's get right into it.

[ Music ]

Vincent Del Casino: Akilah, thanks so much for joining me.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Thank you for having me.

Vincent Del Casino: So, it's really interesting, I find your work absolutely fascinating, because it operates at the -- at the level of trying to really understand the intersection of sports and society. Right? And the impact that sports has on society and society has on sports. How did you get interested in this -- in these sorts of questions? You know, what drove you there to begin with?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: I appreciate that question. It's interesting because, as I tell people, I fell into this work by accident. I really feel that I was tricked into it. So, I was working at the University of Georgia in campus recreation, gosh, 2000, and I came across a book at a grocery store called The New Plantation, the colonization of the black male athlete. And I thought, hey, this is really fascinating. There was no price tag on it or anything, so I couldn't go and check it out.

So, I went back to my office, looked on my computer, and found out that the author of the text was a man by the name of Dr. Billy Hawkins. And then, as I kept digging further, I found out that he works at the University of Georgia. And then I dig further and I was like, oh, he's currently here and he's in the building. So, I went up to his office, introduced myself. Said, hey, I saw that you have a book, would like to get a copy of it. I, too, was a former student athlete. And he said sure. He asked me what I was doing. I told him I worked in campus rec, was finishing up my master's degree. And he said, well, why don't you go for your doctorate. I said no, no, I just want the book [laughter].

And so, at that point, he invited me. He's like, well, why don't you come talk to my class about your experience as an athlete. So, I did that. I put a presentation together. It was called Passing the Baton. And, you know, good reception. Good interaction with the students. I then came to another class that he had to talk a little bit about the work that I do in campus rec. And after that, all the sudden I find myself enrolling to get my Ph.D. under his guidance. So, through that process, one of the things I brought to the table was that I was really interested in retirement and transition of athletes.

I think in many ways trying to sort out my own transition out of being a collegiate athlete and coming into my professional self, that as I kept reading, you know, and doing this work, I realized that I didn't see the stories of black women. And I told him, I said we're not here. Can I research that? He said, yes, I was waiting for you to get there. So, like I said, I feel in many ways, you know, I was kind of just -- fell into it. But in living the experience as a black, female college athlete, living the experience as a black woman in society, I really started to see these intersections and how all these things started to come together, and then just began a journey of exploration of those lived experiences. Not only of my own, but I think of other individuals that I came across and realized that their voice was not there. And so, it just -- it just really spun out of that to begin to explore lived experiences in sport.

Vincent Del Casino: So, you -- so, you -- I suspect from Passing the Baton, you're a track athlete. I ran track as well. Were, you know, I'm just curious, was it a four by 400? Were you a sprinter? What did -- what did you work on? And this is at Houston, right, University of Houston?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Yeah, so at the University of Houston I was recruited in -- and I was on the track and field team. I was a long jumper and a 100 meter hurdler. And then I ran the four by one when I could, when I was fast enough, you know? Because again, we came -- I just have to say, give props to U of H under the leadership of Tom Tallez, who's coached such greats as Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell. Leroy Burrell actually was my coach in the latter years of my schooling. Coach T, as we call him, retired. So, it was just a great, supportive environment as a student athlete in that space, not only from my peers but also from the other track individuals and track legends, living legends that were there and training for the games throughout my time.

Vincent Del Casino: Well, it is so interesting, because, you know, when I went to school I felt like I fell into an instant community, you know, as being a student athlete. And that is something I know that's driven your work, and I want to talk a little bit more about. But obviously, from your intellectual trajectory, exercise physiology, exercise science --

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Yeah.

Vincent Del Casino: Which is what you went to do at Georgia, obviously not an accident after spending time as an athlete. What were you thinking at that point with an exercise science degree? Like where was your path, did you think anyway?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Originally, again, I kind of use this term, and I'll probably use it throughout, this notion of me search. I was trying to -- trying to figure out how to fix half the stuff that was broken, because I went into my freshman year at U of H, I suffered an injury my senior year in high school where I dislocated my knee. And so, my first entrance into that collegiate space was in the athletic training room, because I needed to get rehabilitation and then began to get a couple of surgeries to repair my ACL and PCL, then learn to walk again, learn to run again, hurdle, and jump. And so, falling into that space of exercise science, I really wanted to learn more about my body, to be the best, I believe, athlete that I could be. And I thought by understanding movement, body, healing, all of those things, nutrition, that would be the space for me. I had the interesting opportunity to even work for my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Walter Lowe, who was not only the team surgeon and orthopedic surgeon for University of Houston, but at the time, you know, the Houston Oilers, and then, eventually, you come into the Texans and the Houston Rockets. So, I was able to learn a little bit about him.

I was just an aide, you know, but I got to see him in the office and how he worked and operated. And so, I was heading down that road of orthopedic surgeon for a while. And then, funny story, I was just -- I thought to myself, he travels a lot. I don't really want to do that. And then, now I'm in this space now where like I'm traveling. Well, in normal terms, we would probably do that, but I'm in a space where I'm operating and moving a lot. So, it's kind of quite interesting to be back around to this space now.

Vincent Del Casino: Yeah. And I love that concept of me search, because, you know, so many students, like they look at us, you know, as faculty and go, oh well, clearly that was a trajectory you had planned the whole time. I had no idea going into college that that's the pathway I would end up on, or that I would turn -- I started as a chemistry major and ended up with East Asian studies and international relations, [inaudible] Japanese, studied abroad.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Wow.

Vincent Del Casino: You know, ended up as a Southeast Asian and then geographer. It was -- there's no way. Like I love, too, that, you know, these things happen by accident. They happen through sometimes through serendipity as well, that off conversation. And I think it's important for our students and our colleagues to understand that, you know, people think we nailed this and planned it out. And a lot of it is the context and the experiences, right, that we draw from.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. I mean, I pulled so much from my lived experience. It's come into my writing. I think with every article there's a part of me in it. And I was actually -- it started through the encouragement of my doctoral committee. And one of my committee members, Dr. Derrick Alridge, said to me, because I really -- the way I write and the way I sort of think of things is very musical.

So, songs inspire me, poetry inspires me. And when I shared that with the committee he said, well do that. He said, one, put that in there. Put lyrics in there if that's how you formulate. And then, at the same time, he's like write yourself in the story. So, my dissertation of negotiating identities and understanding the experiences of African-American women, African-American female college athletes in predominately white institutions, he said, put yourself in that story. And so I did. So, I've written myself into my dissertation. Each chapter begins with music from Jill Scott, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, and that's how, you know, I kind of understand the world. But as you begin to look at some of my work, I start -- sort of lead into commentary with a statement, with a poem, you know, with a lyric that really, again, I think in many ways reflects the thesis of what's going on in America, you know?

Vincent Del Casino: I love how you talk about your own inspiration. Did you consider your work kind of autoethnographic or did you just bring that as a piece of the larger project, to just try to contextualize, you know, the work that you were doing?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Yeah. I never considered it autoethnography. I just -- I just tend to sort of write in that way. And perhaps it's just from a cultural space of narrative, and oral narrative in the black community. I just always saw myself sort of sitting at the feet of my grandparents, sitting at the feet of my great-grandmother, who just -- she lived to 103. So, she was just an amazing woman, but she lived through the Tulsa riots. And so, you know, not knowing the significance at a young child -- as a young child, but learning more as the years go on, just the importance of sitting at the feet of our elders and learning and listening and understanding their own lived experience to really help bring some continuity and understanding to who I am, and then how my lived experience will sort of pass on to my children.

Vincent Del Casino: That's really powerful. And clearly, I want to turn now to the work itself, the research you've done, and so forth. Clearly, a strong interest early on in your career on mentorship, particularly among black and African-American girls and women in sport. And in your 2010 paper, one of the first papers I think you published, maybe out of your dissertation work, you talk in the very first sentence about black women in society are experiencing a double jeopardy. Can you -- can you explain a little bit about what we mean here by double jeopardy? And how does -- how does that help you understand the complexity of the experience of black female athletes?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: This notion of double jeopardy, again, who we are as a racialized being, who we are as a gendered being. So, being black and female, when we look at sort of the social construction and the hierarchy of that, we're at the bottom. It goes to the work of even Derek Bell, this notion of faces at the bottom of the well. And so, often being marginalized in many ways. And so, I not only look at it from this notion of double jeopardy, but in many ways, you know, triple jeopardy or multiple jeopardies that we face.

So, being a woman, being black, being a mother in some circumstances, being an athlete as we, you know, hear this terminology of shut up and dribble, right? So, you know, we're oftentimes at the bottom of these spaces. But even in that purview, we're able to see so much because we've lived through a lot. But I think this notion, and for me, for mentoring, was so important in that I didn't get to where I am today on my own. I had so many people that were supportive and influential from, you know, white men to black men to black women to my sister docs who I chat with every week to really kind of keep us grounded. There were so many people that were helping me through my trajectory, and so mentoring has always been very important to me, not only from my own being that mentee, but realizing that I had something to pass on. And I think that's what I also gathered from being an athlete, and that we created structures, particularly being a college athlete, of team captain, you know?

So, I was served in the role of team captain. I was a peer mentor. And we got so much support, I think, and engagement and empowerment in those spaces to know that you have a voice and you have something to give back. So, it oftentimes went against the grain of what society was telling me. And so, those are the types of pieces that I try to write to let black women know, to let athletes know, to let young people know that you have a place in this world.

Vincent Del Casino: And I think what's interesting about this early work and some of the questions you're answering, is you're looking at the experience of black female athletes in predominately white institutions. Right? So, universities that have -- are predominantly white, not just demographically, but in a kind of a social way, right?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Right.

Vincent Del Casino: That whiteness permeates those spaces. So, when you think about -- you talk about the concept of the mentor definition and the mentor characteristics in this early paper, how does the context of the predominately white institution impact on black female athletes and their own understanding of this mentorship relationship and the mentor characteristics that you think are so valuable, right, for this -- for this experience?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Being in those spaces, you know, has been a norm for me. So, even starting from early elementary school, I've been in all white institutions. But there's been, again, sort of that one teacher, one principle, a physical education teacher that has sort of served as a mentor, helping, you know, me navigate these spaces and get through to learn in these spaces, but also just to exist in these spaces.

When we look at predominately white institutions, historically white institutions, the leadership is as such. Again, predominately white. The spaces are predominantly white. There's no safe space, in many ways, because, you know, they're occupied by the majority. And so, we found ourselves, and I'm saying we, seeing myself as an athlete at U of H, oftentimes is congregating with one another. We stayed in our social spaces with one another. So, there was a real sisterhood and even brotherhood that sort of developed in those spaces. But mentoring was very important, because we still understood that we needed to sort of get through this life as an athlete and get through this life and get our degree so we could go on to be -- to be great. And so, the mentor in this space, they serve as a guide. They serve as a role model. They provide constructive criticism. But more than anything, it has to be genuine.

That mentor, whoever was sort of speaking to us, there was a trust factor there to help us move through so we could be great in our career choices and identifying some of those things, that we could be great in our athletic endeavors. But I think even to the point of that, and more of it I'm seeing now, is the importance of just what I call the psychosocial support. You know, being able to know that we're off in a place, because again, going off to college, especially for athletes, most of us are migrating, as Dr. Hawkins would say, to another geographic location.

So, we're without family. We're without our friends that we grew up with. So, we build that family in that space. And so, mentoring becomes such a value to know that you have another trusted individual that can serve as a guide to help you navigate these spaces, and hence, this notion for me of it's important for us black women, black female athletes, in particular, who are often very small, represent a very small percentage of that university campus.

When we think about in reality, it's probably about 50 women, you know, per these institutions, that 38,000, you know, 40,000, 28,000. They're a very small population. So, having mentoring, investing in them, is very important, because they are such a small population. But at the same time, are oftentimes thrust to the fore because of their athleticism that we need support. We need that guidance. And so, for me, that was something that I wanted to put out there to say, don't forget about us, because again, our black male counterparts are the ones that are also receiving a lot of the attention to the invisibility and, oftentimes, silence of our own lived experiences.

Vincent Del Casino: I think it's so powerful that you talk about that geography. I mean, I am a geographer. And you don't have to go far to have that happen, right?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: No.

Vincent Del Casino: You know, you could have grown up in one part of Houston, and then all of a sudden you find yourself on this campus. And this, again, speaking to our students here, many first-generation college students, so their parents don't have a lot of understanding of kind of, and it's a whole new world. It's organized differently, the spatial way in which you move around it, what it means to create community and connection. And again, I mean, being a student athlete, you have this advantage of falling into a group which, for some students who don't have that, that's not right there with them --

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Right.

Vincent Del Casino: Right away when they get there.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Right.

Vincent Del Casino: And they have a hard time reading the institutional cues.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Right. Right. There's a freedom that's involved when you go off to college. But even being in those athletic spaces, as much as there's that freedom, there's also a control. And so, it's a challenging space to navigate as well, because then you have to navigate friendships. Because, well why can't you go here, you're in college now? Oh, the coach says, you know, or my practice schedule, or I've got to work on this paper because my time is something that's of essence in those spaces. And so, my ability to even navigate and have relationships, right, friendships, be involved in social groups is oftentimes limited. So again, those mentors really play a key role in helping to support our endeavors and things that we're interested in.

Vincent Del Casino: And what's exciting about the work that you started with is that you have -- you have recommendations. This is not just like I want to theoretically understand the question of mentorship, you know. You're like, well, we have to create programming and they have to be structured and they have to be thought through with these theoretical ideas in mind, understanding the double jeopardy. You can't just create a blank slate and mentorship programs just emerge, right?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Right.

Vincent Del Casino: So, how have you taken some of what you've learned and then said, hey, here's how I think we might start to structure mentorship programs to expand access and create these kind of communities that you're talking about that help people balance all this complex life work?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Well, I created a program [laughter]. So, my dear colleague, Dr. Deniece Dortch, who was with me at Texas A and M University, she and I came together to create Sister to Sister. And that spun out of, not only my dissertation sort of implications, but it also came into the reality that I, being an African-American professor at a predominately white institution, all of a sudden I was getting called, not just because I was African-American female, but because I had that athletic background that the athletic administration called me in and said, hey, we have a young woman. We think you'd be a great mentor to her. I said, okay great. You know, one student, no problem. I go to an event, the next you know, well, we got five more. And then I'm walking out of there, you know, in a couple of weeks and all of a sudden there's a team. And so, being the person that I am, knowing that lived experience, knowing that we are few and far between, even when it's, you know, being able to identify black faculty and staff to go to, it was one that I'm going to do it. I'm going to figure out a way.

So, Deniece and I came together and I'm like this is what I need to do, but I can't, you know, mentor everyone individually. So, we created a program to where we met with these young women on a monthly basis, talked about very topical issues, but also made it very personal at the same time, utilizing the background philosophies of critical race theory, this notion of intersectionality, as you spoke about, as well as black feminist thought, to really guide the importance of community of black women's voices, of being able to sort of share out in this framework. And so, we met with them. We talked with them. We created a drop-in thing, so it wasn't anything mandatory. They always knew that we were there, even if they just stopped through, to be a part of -- part of the discussion. They knew that they had a community. They knew that they had a space that they could come and just share and vent and didn't need to justify their responses.

And so, we validated them in those spaces. And since those times, you know, the young women have grown up, they have their own kids now, and are still checking in with me, which is so great. Because I think at the time they may not understand the significance of it, but as they move through the program and move through their own years, even, you know, leaving that college space, they got it. They were like, oh, okay. Because they're very shielded and oftentimes sheltered in that athletic space that they don't realize that they're a minority of a minority. So, we wanted to create a space where they could voice, share, vent, and explore their own being.

Vincent Del Casino: This is really interesting and so powerful. And one of the challenges in the academy, right, is then, how do we account for that work that so many black women, such as yourself, do, right? And it's a -- it's a real tension point in the academy, and I think we need to name it and we need to talk about it, because I do think there has to be an accounting there because that mentorship ties in, essentially, I think, to the work you've been proposing. Because you move from there to that larger question, a sense of belonging and community and connection. And you talk about in, I believe it's in one your papers, you talk about the ethics of care that we need to develop. And I find that very powerful as a person who's worked in kind of medical, health, HIV related issues, those questions of ethics of care are really important. And you say the ethics of care needs to be rooted in the Afrocentric feminist epistemology.

I would love for you to unpack that a little bit for us. Like what does that mean? Because I think it's really interesting and important, because, you know, just reading through your work and the evolution of it, you know, it raises the question of like how does that theoretical set of questions then work into frameworks, or ways of being or activities that allow us to think differently about the support structures we might provide?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: This framework has been something, again, that's guided my work, but I think I've always been doing it. Again, raised by a great family, mom and dad, but having their own parents, you know, pour into me. My grandmothers are some of the strongest women I know, some of the most amazing women I know that had been very open and sort of sharing of the experience. And so, this notion of ethic of care is something that is a part of this Afrocentric, you know, feminist epistemology. And it really looks at this understanding that we have a personal uniqueness that we need to illuminate and celebrate. That we are also engaging in conversation where we're able to feel and be okay of having these emotional dialogues and not being deemed as the angry black woman or complaining about circumstance. This is our lived experience. Allow us to have the space to sort of move through these range of emotions, And really, mental and physical, in some way, challenges that we have experienced. and then, with that, we often birth this space of empathy.

So, you know, I think, you know, we're just some of the most caring individuals that we sort of welcome everybody into these spaces. But that ethic of care is informing individuals that to come into a space to work with, you know, young people, young people of color, groups and individuals that are marginalized, you have to be open to listening. You have to come with an open heart, an open mind, and willing to be able to sit there and just absorb, you know, what their lived experiences are. And that's one of the things that I think goes into, you know, much of my work as well, is that as much as I have lived a lot of these things, I haven't lived all.

So, even when I go and interview, you know, young black women and other individuals, I'm listening to their lived experience, because here's an opportunity to share, and I think that's one of the unique things in even just doing qualitative work. We're oftentimes asking groups, again, that don't have an opportunity to share, that are often, again, invisible and silenced. And so, when I broach some of these questions to them they're like nobody ever asked me. Nobody ever cared about how I felt. And so, in the same vein, you know, this ethic of caring opens up that dialogue. This notion of mentoring and creating these spaces opens up an opportunity to have individuals sort of sort through their thought processes and their experiences, to make sense of it, not only for themselves, but to then be able to utilize that to navigate the spaces to get to where they want to go. And it develops a healthy practice for them, because our goal really with creating Sister to Sister was for them to then go off and then begin to sort of create these spaces in their respective careers or homes to where they welcome and voiced, shared, and were able to be supportive of the next, you know, group or generation.

Vincent Del Casino: It's so interesting. I love the way in which you so eloquently weave together that feminist notion of personal, as political, with that Afrocentric notion of community and connection and oral tradition. And in one of your papers you cite Bell, who argues, quote, black women have always been the salvation secret of our people. It's time for them to assume formally the positions they have always held. And we all found that out, right, in some of the recent elections in the -- in the U.S. south. But how does that notion then tie into, in the same article, the tension that's still there around African-Americans, and this is quoting you, African-American women's social locations at the margins of support in society, right? And so, at one level we know them to hold this role, and yet we have -- so, how is the work helping to kind of push us and push society to see that salvation secret, I guess is the question.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: It's challenging, because I think in many respects we know that black women are of value, but they're not valued. You know? We see what their contributions are, but they're still -- you know, we are still not valued. And you talk about even, yes, recent elections, but I even think about the women of the WNBA, you know, and their stance, because they've been doing this work. And I have to commend the WNBA for even supporting and getting behind them. They've been doing this work of social justice from the beginning. And I was so proud to just kind of sit and watch the screen and hear them come out with, yeah, we're making -- we're having a protest or we're demonstrating or, you know, we are on strike right now or on hold, but here are the specific demands. And they named, this is what needs to take place. And we had -- we come from that tradition of a -- of an Ida B. Wells, of a -- of an Ella Baker, with SNCC, you know? So, we come from that tradition and had been, in many ways, sort of guiding movements. And even, you know, when we think about the women's movements, Mary Church Terrell, you know, as we're talking about women's suffrage, if you will, and her role.

So, you know, I think it's one where we still have to -- some work to do, you know, in our country, in the world in many respects, and in our institutions to understand, not only the value, but then begin to value them. And to recognize the role that they can play in promoting policy. You know, promoting programs and giving of self to others. I think there's much that can be learned, you know, from, again, being on the margins. But again, it's time to bring us, you know, to the center. And I think it's still a complicated situation, you know, because we have so many. I think even in our webinar yesterday, Deniece Dortch was actually on, but she, you know, talked about, you know, we got to bring people to the table, but we also have to understand -- everybody at the table still doesn't agree, you know? And everybody at the table are still fighting for these positions of power. And I think one of the things that we also have to understand, at least I feel as a black woman, you know, I'm not here to take over, you know? I'm here to share these lived experiences, because at the end of the day, particularly in institutions of higher education, my goal is to support these young people through their educational matriculation, through their journey to become, you know, the people that they want to be, and through their life's journey to find their purpose.

And that, for me, is what really drives me and my work. And I think, again, to me, needs to be the undercurrent of the conversation is, you know, who are we serving in this space and who are the voices that can bring that together to help us fulfill our service, fulfill our purpose, fulfill our mission, and our respective institutions and organizations?

Vincent Del Casino: I think that's really, really interesting. And what you talk about, too, which is also really critically important, is an anti-reductionism, getting away from just saying there's one black female experience here. There's so much complexity in this and we have to foster that through the very conversations you're talking about, right? So, because disagreement also can be healthy for productive ways of engaging each other, right? And I see that throughout your work. You're trying to make sure those voices emerge --

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Yeah.

Vincent Del Casino: Through this. I have like a selfish question, which is --

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Okay.

Vincent Del Casino: Would -- it's more in the sense that I'm really interested on how you bring together black feminist thought, critical theory, and hip-hop feminism, and how those things, you know, you talk about that and how that kind of informs your work. You talked about the lyrical at the beginning of the conversation. You know, and obviously the -- but how do those things influence each other, because there are tensions within those literatures as well, I think, you know, about how they think about the experience and so forth?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Yeah, you know, I really work a lot to -- I'm so kind of rooted in this theory and interested in theoretical frameworks. But what I came to understand is that when we talk about womanism, when you talk about black feminist thought, critical race feminism, hip-hop feminism, they all, again, still come under disguise of intersectionality. And each of these frameworks also came out in generational time periods. So, when we think of, you know, womanism came out in a specific time period. It was sort of kind of the first way when we talk about black feminism. Then you have black feminist thought with Patricia Hill Collins. And then it starts to move into more of a legalized representation acknowledgment in critical race feminism. And then hip-hop feminism really embraces and endorses the people that -- and the young people involved in music and technology, right?

And so, I think they work together very well. I used -- I typically stay in my black feminist framework a little bit more. And it may be, again, because of generational, but at the same time there's a time when I may be focusing on something that has much more of a legal bend to it. So, I need to pull in that critical race feminism and the range of women of color that have contributed to that school of thought and how we then, as you suggested, it's not only talking about it, but then talking about sort of best practices, how do those ideas then manifest into programs, into services. And so, I'll utilize that framework to bring that forward. Hip-hop feminism is new, you know, and I think it's more nuanced, but I think it's highly appropriate. Because even in communicating with young women, and I'm going to still call myself young, even as I celebrate a birthday today, you know, it's one where I think about music. And music, and again, poetry, often reflect what's going on in society. And so, there is a thesis that sort of comes out of it, out of the respective songs. Some of them I enjoy, some of them I don't, but it's still reflecting the voice of the beautiful array of black women that we have all across this country and the world. And so, you know, there's a time when we need to sort of elevate those voices and share. Such that, again, that everybody can sort of understand those lived experiences and begin to move forward to celebrate, support, and empower those voices.

Vincent Del Casino: Yeah, and I appreciate that. That's a really interesting point you make. And the point about intersectionality, can you just explain that a little bit, because there might be people out there sort of like what do we mean by that concept, right? You know, what does that bring to the table in terms of your thinking?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Intersectionality ultimately begins to look at how all people, really in many ways, are represented in society. And it may be through, you know, media representations, and I would say the strong role that stereotypes and myths have to play and how we are depicted in society. It also looks at the structural challenges and barriers that we may have to jump over, push down in many ways that are built around this. Again, socially constructed barriers built around our race and our sex and our sexual orientation, as well as the political barriers that we often have.

So, when we start to look at laws and legislation, how those oftentimes create barriers as well. And so, this notion of intersectionality begins to help us understand, going back to what you referred to before, our respective social locations and how we are in the places that we are, how we are able to access, you know, certain career spaces, certain industries, certain social circles, but then, at the same time, how we're treated in these spaces. So, this notion of intersectionality really is a -- is a great philosophy, theoretical framing, brought forth by Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw, that does an excellent job of saying that sometimes in these issues, living at the intersections, when we are fullness, as intersectional beings, as black female, you know, coming from a certain social class or certain educational mindset, but [inaudible] women and gender, then we begin to see in this space, you know, [inaudible] race.

And so, we'll talk to you in terms of your racial identity, but not considering the fullness [inaudible] context and paint a picture of who we are in our fullness when we begin to sort of unpack and dismantle some of these issues and challenges and then begin to start putting those pieces back together and think thoughtfully about in our creation of programs and our development of policies and best practices.

Vincent Del Casino: That's awesome. I thank you for unpacking that for us. I think it's important for people to understand. We might have had a little, you know, blip there, but we'll just push on. I would be remiss if I -- if I don't talk about one of the core reasons we have the opportunity to have you at San Jose State University, which is, as Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Sports, Society, and Social Change. And I would love to know a little bit about the institute, but also what you're working on, what you're pushing on. I know, for example, one of the issues that you -- has become a passion for you recently are the questions of mental health, right, amongst athletes and so forth. So, maybe just give us a little framing in the institute, where you hope it's going, you know, what you see is its future, and the sorts of things you want to work on and what role it plays for us.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: There's so much. So, the institute was founded in 2017, a brainchild of Dr. Harry Edwards. And really came forth, so the Institute for the Study of Sports, Society, and Social Change really works to illuminate the, you know, issues of equity, of social change, social justice in these spaces. Through that, we were to fulfill three pillars that include research, programs, and education. And with the institute right now, we -- and me just, what is this, my -- completed my first year trying to get the lay of the land.

Vincent Del Casino: Yes, you and I -- you and I started at the same time.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: At the same exact time. And it's been such a joy ride [laughter].

Vincent Del Casino: It's been an interesting year. There's no question.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Definitely. Definitely. And so, within that, really working to really have the institute breathe life into what it can be. And so, from a research standpoint, we've been engaging, particularly over the past few months, you know, since we've had to transition over into this virtual world, been engaging in a lot of things. So, from a research perspective, you know, we really are working to identify topics that are, you know, related to, you know, individual and group experiences, institutional and organizational practices, things of public policy, and just how those things sort of interface in our sport and society world.

And so, we've had a great opportunity to engage with some communities and things are coming forth. I've been working with, which I think is part institution, but also part, you know, the work that I've done, with an organization called [inaudible] Sport for Good, an international sport based youth development organization. And so, I'm one -- I'm on a team of one of six scholars from the U.S. committee that is looking into, you know, some of the issues and challenges when we talk about the -- providing programming for sport and for a lot of these kind of grassroots organizations that are working to use sport as a method to engage in education, you know, mentor, kind of offset issues and challenges when it comes to socioeconomic status.

So, working with that organization, doing some -- just onboarded with another organization called The International Working Group, which promotes girls and women in sport and recreation. So, I'm going to be serving as a co-convener for this particular organization. And its conference will happen in 2022 in New Zealand, and hopefully we're live again. But to do some amazing work around -- in and around girls and women in sport and just understanding, you know, lifelong experiences in those spaces. Other things, you know, working on campus with collaborators, [inaudible], who's a lecturer in our Art and Art History Department here at San Jose State, with A Wall of Song project and working that into national initiatives with National Girls and Women in Sports Day.

So again, elevating women, empowering women, and really trying to work to engage even our own female athletes here on this campus. But I think one of the undercurrent, you know, research endeavors that we are starting to delve into is what the institute and what the work of Dr. Edwards sort of spoke to with regards to athlete activism, and really trying to get the voices of, you know, those young people today and to examine a lot of the storyline that has happened over the past two months in this wave and space of Black Lives Matter. And so, we will begin to sort of work together, not only we as an institute, but collaborating across departments and organizations with our own Department of African-American studies under the chair of Dr. Travis Boyce, working with our Martin Luther King, Junior Library, our archivist Carli Lowe, on some projects.

So, I'm very excited to kind of push forward with that as well. I'm working with my amazing team, Dr. Amy August, who just came on board, you know, to get some of these narratives, and also to sport her work when we talk about the Me Too movement. So, that's sort of our research efforts. Our programs, oh my gosh. In this transition we moved to a virtual platform. We started Sport Conversations for Change in April. And because, you know, we thought we'll just do a few shows because COVID is only going to be a few weeks, right?

Vincent Del Casino: That's right. It's only going to last -- we'll all be back in the classroom in April, right?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Exactly. Exactly.

Vincent Del Casino: And this is a webinar series that you've now developed, is that correct?

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: This is a web -- yeah, a webinar series. And we've been tackling issues from women in sport to the Olympic, you know, movement, what's been kind of -- what those athletes have been enduring and how they're coping with the challenges. We talked about, you know, high school athletes whose seasons were canceled. You know, they weren't postponed, they were canceled, because in high school you got to go. You got to graduate. So, what does that mean for those young people when we talk about retirement and transition, if you will? We talked to faculty that are having to now, you know, how do we sort of create opportunity, internships, for example, for our students that need to be in these spaces where boots are the ground? When we talk about sport and delivering sport events and programs, we're in the spaces. But now being in this virtual space, or being canceled or postponed, they're not having those opportunities. And so, even out of that one particular show the thing that came to mind, I'm like, you know what, we're going to create internships.

So, we even started internships for academic credit within the institute. And so, we have 10 that are -- 10 students that are joining us this semester doing some things with our programs, our social media, and marketing, and our research as well. So, that one program is something that has really spun off into a number of beautiful things. We had our first show for the fall semester yesterday that dealt with this notion of representation matters. You know, talking about race, equity, and inclusion in athletics. And so, a very, you know, thoughtful, robust conversation, because it's been, I think, on the hearts and minds and in the present-day workings of many organizations across the U.S. and the world, you know, about how do we sort of, you know, unpack some of these issues out of those conversations. In that particular program, we begin to then collaborate, because again, COVID was just going to be a few months. So, we were like we'll take a break from the show and we'll just take time to kind of get our ducks in a row.

And again, I say we, you know, Dr. August, Beth Doyle, who's our executive assistant for the institute, and then we just delve into a space of collaborative efforts. You know, working with lawyers for good on a virtual platform on this antiracist, you know, experience, working with, you know, sport philanthropy network nuts and bolts, and just down a range of communicating with different individuals and organizations to include the Mohammed Ali Center and serving as a discussant on that platform to talk again about the importance of sport in society and addressing these intersections, again, of race, of gender, of mentorship in these spaces. And so, you know, those have been some great endeavors for us. And, you know, with that, you know, not only providing those spaces, but moving towards a space where we will, in November, host a conference, Sport Society and Social Change, out of the institute November 12 and 13, with this goal and theme of reimagining sport in the age of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter. What could it look like? What can it look like now that we -- I'm not going to say now that we understand, or now that we recognize this notion of race and racism and the importance of equity and diversity and inclusion, but I think, again, having this time of, in many ways, a thoughtful pause, right, to come back together to reorganize, revamp, revise mission statements, look at programming, be more strategic and encompassing of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in these spaces?

And so, we'll do that in this space and we want, you know, attendees to come from all spaces, whether they are K-12 administrators to sport associations and organizations, other practitioners and educators, to kind of bring the issues to the table, talk about them and then we begin to work together to unpack them for them, but really embody our motto of the institute, which is words to action. We're going to talk about these things, try to get on the same level, and then move all of those individuals to the point where they're going to leave this space with a plan, a plan of action, a network that they can communicate and be - even be able to identify sources and organizations that can help them get to the place that they need to get and they want to get.

Vincent Del Casino: I love it. And I think words to action is a great way to frame this conversation and your career to date. And I know there's a lot more of it, an unbelievable amount of work that you're putting into it. And we're so happy to have you here as our Executive Director of the Institute and so forth. And for context, you know, we don't know exactly when this is going to air, but now it's going to air before November 11 and 12.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Okay.

Vincent Del Casino: So, we can use it to -- so, everyone knows that the conference is going on. But, Akilah, I could probably talk to you for another two or three hours. I just find what you do just incredibly, not only inspiring, but just thoughtful and engaging and critical. And it helps me challenge myself as both an academic and as an administrator. So, I just want to thank you so much --

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Thank you.

Vincent Del Casino: For taking the time to have this conversation with me and to be part of the San Jose community. We're just very, very lucky to have you here. So, thanks so much.

Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique: Thank you.

[ Music ]