Athletics at Carleton have changed dramatically this term in response to COVID-19. Cancelled seasons, socially distanced practices, and the general stress of life during a pandemic add a new layer of pressure to the lives of Carleton student-athletes.
The disappearance of fall sport seasons leave fewer opportunities for student-athletes to show their support for each other at games, matches and meets. Searching to fill this void, Talia Williams ’22—Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) president and a member of the women’s volleyball team—and her colleagues on the council drew up an avenue for student-athletes to come together virtually on Zoom.
This October, SAAC, in conjunction with Student Health and Counseling (SHAC), rolled out Speak Up Saturdays: a weekly event that provides a space for student-athletes to discuss feelings of social isolation, the stress of online schoolwork and other COVID-related anxieties during these uncertain and complicated times.
“I saw an opportunity to make sure my fellow athletes feel supported,” said Williams. She recognizes that “talking about our feelings and what we’re going through isn’t super common among athletes,” and as she gave the idea for Speak Up Saturdays more thought, she realized its potential to break a traditional stigma against mental health in the Carleton athletic community.
SHAC counselor Nate Page, who has specialized in college mental health since 2012, is excited to work exclusively with athletes and embrace the role of staff facilitator for Speak Up Saturdays. “My role is to hold the meeting in a way that fosters empathy, connection and freedom to share authentic thoughts and feelings,” said Page, a specialist in group therapy who runs the Carleton Phoenix Project, a group of students, faculty and staff that work together to let go of perfectionism.
Page emphasizes that Speak Up Saturdays is not a therapy group. Rather, he suggests it should be interpreted as a place where students “can practice talking about things they might not be able to address in other relationships.”
“There’s something powerful about a group of people coming together with the intention of talking and listening to how each other are feeling and experiencing the world,” he added.
Participants are welcome to share as much or as little as they would like. “The entire meeting is completely voluntary and it’s designed so no one should feel pressured to speak if they don’t feel comfortable,” said Williams. Typically, meetings begin with the simple question, “How is everyone doing?” and take off naturally from there. There is no designated topic for each meeting, so participants “usually end up talking about a variety of different things depending on who comes to the meeting and what they choose to talk about.”
No matter the discussion topic, participants are offered unwavering support by fellow athletes. Natalie Lafferty, a junior on the women’s soccer team, eagerly looks forward to Speak Up Saturdays each week. “I especially appreciate the opportunity to connect with student-athletes across different teams,” said Lafferty, who also mentioned that “taking one hour on Zoom to completely relax, connect and converse with fellow athletes is really helpful.”
“It’s comforting to hear other people’s stories about how their lives and personal relationships have been impacted by COVID-19,” Lafferty added.
Speak Up Saturdays cultivate a space for student-athletes to share their thoughts and feelings in an otherwise stressful time to be a college athlete. Williams, Page and Lafferty encourage Carleton athletes to participate in this Saturday’s meeting at 2:00pm. The meeting Zoom link can be found on SAAC’s Instagram page.