On Feb. 24, four African American Stanford University alumni participated in a virtual panel to discuss their experiences at the renowned institution. It was part of Cardinal W Week, Celebrating Women’s Sports. The moderator was Brooklyn native Courtney Bowen, a two-time NCAA Champion, her teammate and fellow class of 2019 graduate Tami Alade, Dr. Ogonna Nnamani Silva (class of 2005), and Kim Oden (class of 1986 and a former coach at Stanford). All shared their experiences being in a sport that is predominantly white.

“Representation and seeing people who look like you is definitely an important piece to knowing that you can reach these heights,” said Bowen, who told her fellow panelists they are all role models. “You hold so many important identities for which you can serve as great representations of what is possible and what can be.”

“Joy, confidence, excellence and surrounding yourself with good people is what I’ve taken into my life and tried to instill in the students that I work with,” said Oden, a high school counselor. She is also the co-founder and chairperson of Starlings Volleyball, USA, a non-profit organization that trains girls ages 10–18 from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Oden was one of the reasons Nnamani Silva, who was heavily recruited for college, chose Stanford. “That’s what you want, the opportunity,” she said. “Representation in medicine is low. I want to create change in a positive way and be a role model and work really hard to ensure that people have a chance to be a doctor.”

The four women also spoke of how playing the sport impacted their lives beyond the wins they all accomplished. Bowen said, “It redefined to me what it meant to be part of a team.” She also noted that volleyball made her resilient. “You really truly do learn from your mistakes,” said Alade.

Nnamani Silva said volleyball and Stanford taught her to be the best version of herself. “Athletes have a lot of tools and a lot of things that make us really successful in real life situations,” she said. “We want to be there for our team. We want to create a positive culture and a positive environment. That’s what we believe in.”

Oden said Stanford taught her that you do things well. “Whether it’s in the classroom. Whether it’s on the volleyball court. You do things well and you aim [high],” she said. “You’re not always going to be perfect, but you’re going to aim for that.”