By Melissa Anderson
Akilah Carter-Francique said she never pictured moving to Silicon Valley as a step in her career trajectory, but when she saw the job posting for the executive director of the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change at San Jose State University she had to apply. She first connected with SJSU when she was invited to be a faculty affiliate with the Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change (ISSSSC). She visited the campus for the first time in October 2018 for the Words to Action: Landmarks and Legacy of Athlete Activism Town Hall.
“It was great to have an opportunity to see the programming with Dr. Harry Edwards, Tommie Smith and John Carlos,” she said. “And especially to hear Wyomia Tyus—to sit in the audience and listen to one of my ‘sheroes’ talk about her experiences at the ’68 Games and learn about the challenges she faced and how she overcame them was a treasured experience.”
In July, Carter-Francique began her tenure as executive director of ISSSSC and will guide the Institute in honoring the university’s history of social justice while also looking toward the future. She aims to move the Institute into a position to not only host important discussions about issues of race, gender equity, and activism but to be able to educate through workshops and provide thought and research that will influence practice and inform policy creation.
Her personal and professional experience made her an ideal choice for the position. She grew up in Topeka, Kansas as the daughter of two K-12 educators. She herself was a student-athlete in track and field in college. She completed a doctorate at the University of Georgia and has experience working in in higher education as a professor and administrator in campus recreation. She also worked a short period of time in K-12 education stimulating her passion for young people and student engagement.
Her scholarly endeavors and field of focus encompasses the intersection of sport, society and social justice that is inclusive of issues of diversity, social movements, and the dynamics of social change and development. She will also serve as an associate professor in the Department of African American Studies, in addition to her work with the Institute. She is the co-editor of Athletic Experience at Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Past Present, and Persistence and Critical Race Theory: Black Athletic Experience in the United States.
Carter-Francique is using her first semester to get to know institutional entities and people on and off campus to find ways to connect on programming and research opportunities. For example, on-campus she is meeting with representatives from the African American Black Student Success Center, the PRIDE Center, the Gender Equity Center and Counseling and Psychological Services, among others.
“I have a student-first mentality, so I want to understand the student groups, who they serve, and how they can be involved,” she said. “I am excited to be here and excited for the opportunity to work with others here.”
While she continues to get to know stakeholders, both on and off campus, Carter-Francique said ISSSSC will focus on a theme of public health and wellness this year, looking at both physical and mental health issues that intersect with sport at all levels.
She noted that her own experience as a student-athlete as well as her husband’s experience as a student-athlete and professional athlete in his native country of Grenada, and who now coaches Grenada’s track and field team, allows her to understand the importance of helping athletes see that they are multidimensional individuals.
“Who do you want to be to make an impact?” she said. “How can you influence and inspire people? You as an individual have value—you can be more than an athlete. You are many things. Maybe you are a sister, a mother, a mentor.”
Carter-Francique is the 2018-19 President of the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS), where she has worked to enhance student involvement in conferences with student poster presentation sessions that support the established “take a student to lunch” program.
“There are a number of undergraduate and master’s students who want to go to graduate school,” she said. “Having the opportunity to present research on a national and international level are very important educational opportunities because they are future scholars and leaders.”
Carter-Francique’s discussions of social and global issues extend to her home, where her children’s rooms are decorated with maps. When she or her husband travel to other countries, they discuss with their children the languages that are spoken, the foods that are eaten, sports that are played and other age-appropriate social issues.
“In my daughter’s last school she was learning Mandarin, so when my husband was traveling to China, she taught him how to say hello. She was thrilled that she could share that knowledge with him,” she said. “We are helping our children, and others we interact with, understand sport and its global, diverse communities.”
Department of African American Studies Lecture Series
Carter-Francique will be giving a talk on Thursday, September 12, 2019 in the Martin Luther King Library Room 225 6 to 8 p.m. as a part of the Department of African American Studies Lecture Series.