Get JAAA head in the game

Members of the Justice in Action Athletic Alliance (JAAA) convened in the Global Heritage Hall on Feb. 20 for their first meeting of the semester to discuss ways RWU can create a more inclusive and welcoming space for current and incoming athletes.

JAAA is a student athlete driven organization with support from the Athletic Department and the Bristol community.

Led by President Dalton Sousa, a senior on the men’s swimming and diving team, the organization seeks to foster an inclusive environment and lead the discussion and education of others on “issues of social injustice including – but not limited to – race, class, sex, gender and sexual orientation,” according to the organization’s official Instagram page.

Through educating people on social injustices that take place within the community, JAAA also seeks to empower members of the community to address these injustices, advocate for those who are affected, and act when these injustices are encountered.

The formation of the organization stems from the protests in wake of the death of George Floyd. The athletic department realized they were not doing enough to address social injustice issues of inclusion, race, LGBTQ+ rights, and sexual assault. Athletic Communications Graduate Assistant Bryce Johnson pitched the idea of JAAA to the department based on his experiences with a similar club at his undergraduate school, Franklin Pierce University.

Sousa, who transferred to RWU from the University of Maine in the Fall of 2020 felt compelled to join the club after seeing how the campus reacted to issues surrounding social injustice — specifically the Black Lives Matter protest that took place on campus on Sept. 16, 2020.

“A lot of students had actually spoken really negatively about the protest and that caught me off guard to be at a school that was talking so negatively about the protest,” said Sousa. “The previous school that I had been at, it was never an issue, never a conversation.”

Other incidents include the blue lives matter flag being hung in the Black LLC and the incident of two students wearing blackface within campus residence halls also prompted Sousa’s decision to join.

The organization has hosted multiple events within the last year and a half since it started in 2020.

The most recent event was a food drive to benefit the Bristol community during the holiday season. The club campaigned outside the RWU men’s and women’s basketball games and through social media according to Sousa.

“We ended up getting about 194 food items that weighed like 200 pounds and that was donated to a local Bristol food pantry,” said Sousa. “And that was our first thing that we did, that was just trying to help the community, give back to the community that we are a part of [because] we are a part of Bristol.”

Last year JAAA hosted the Destress Fest to focus on athletes’ mental health as the spring semester was ending, looking to prioritize many aspects of athletes’ well-being. This past fall, the organization prioritized domestic violence in one during halftime of the men’s soccer match on homecoming weekend.

In front of almost 500 fans, ranging from students, families, and athletes, the organization read statistics about domestic violence and provided tips and hotlines that could be used by someone affected by domestic violence.

“We hope that at least the message was out there, you could get a little bit more information and maybe start the conversation,” said Sousa. “We are just really trying to be a conversation starter on these tough issues.”

Looking forward, JAAA is trying to continue to work throughout the athletics department as a whole to educate, empower, advocate and act on issues of social injustice, according to the goals of the organization, as seen on the organization’s official Instagram page.

Their work includes Green Dot training for all student-athletes, which is a sexual assault prevention and awareness initiative.

“There’s more to be done, more to be had and that’s why I got into it because if I’m gonna speak out I need to be doing my part within the system if I’m also speaking out,” said Sousa.

JAAA’s next meeting will be Sunday, March 27 at 6:00 p.m. in GHH 101.