Now an assistant professor and co-coordinator of the Ed.D. program in the department of higher education leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, Dr. Tomika L. Ferguson vividly remembers her experiences as an undergraduate student-athlete at the University of Virginia. She came from the small town of Appomattox, Virginia, and joined Virginia’s track and field team as a walk-on. By the time she graduated in 2007, she was an All-American and established school records in the triple jump, one of which still stands today.
Following her graduate studies at Indiana University and before coming to VCU, Ferguson worked at James Madison University. While there, she formed the Black Athletes Sister Circle, which is a product of her doctoral dissertation, “I Can Do More Things: How Black Women Student-Athletes Contend with Racial and Gender Stereotypes.”
“I was working at James Madison University and I was doing presentations about my research on the college experiences of women of color student-athletes,” said Ferguson. She was encouraged to reach out to the athletic department, which she did, and she created a pilot program that launched in fall 2016.
“Then I got a job at VCU, but I was committed to keeping the program going,” said Ferguson. She drove from VCU to James Madison (127 miles) two or three times a semester. After pausing it in the fall of 2018, it was relaunched this spring with 15 participants.
BASC is a campus-based program. Ferguson hopes the concept will spread nationally so institutions create holistic connections and safe spaces for Black female student-athletes.
“It’s trying to find the best practices necessary to sustain the athlete,” Ferguson said. “One, we want them to graduate. Two, we want them to feel community. Three, get them out of their circle.
“When I was a student-athlete, my world of Black women primarily in athletics was around the people on the track team,” she continued. “The goal is for student-athletes to come in and meet other people.”
Ferguson wants to create something on which these student-athletes can rely. Within the circle, they share frank discussion, are mentored and build community.
“The goal is to create this space so that Black women athletes are not feeling isolated,” Ferguson said. “They are being affirmed in a way that radically changes how they see themselves. I want them to graduate ready to move with a new air of confidence.
“I want them to think beyond college and beyond their sport,” she added. “I’m really passionate about it because athletics changed my life. It gave me a platform for education, exposure and public speaking.”