Why We Play: Bryan Rubin & Andrea Han

Bryan Rubin, baseball captain, Andrea Han, women’s golf captain, and Matt Righter, baseball coach, along with representatives from other Liberty League institutions at the 2017 NCAA Leadership Forum./ Courtesy of Bryan Rubin

Every four years, Vassar sends two student-athletes to represent the school on the national athletic stage. Bryan Rubin (baseball junior) and Andrea Han (women’s golf sophomore) recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the 2017 NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum. In this week’s Why We Play, they detail their journey to D.C. and recount their experiences at the forum.

While we were both honored and excited to represent Vassar on the national stage, neither of us knew what to expect when we arrived in D.C. for the 2017 NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum.

Having just met each other at the scene of our early-morning departure from Vassar, we were thrown into the fire with no prior warning from the NCAA on what we would be doing there.

We thought, naturally, that the forum would be a relaxed retreat where we would be able to hang out with other student-athletes at the expense of the NCAA. Boy, we were wrong!

Our time at the forum was full of long, demanding days, all the while pushing us beyond all previously conceived limits to think, act and train as leaders.

After arriving at the Gaylord Hotel in Oxon Hill, Maryland, we met the best and brightest leaders in all of college sports.

We couldn’t believe that we were two of the only 300 people representing over 460,000 NCAA student-athletes in Divisions 1, 2 and 3 at the event.

Upon arrival, there was no rest for the weary. We were quickly put to work in a series of intense workshops designed to dissect each person’s individual leadership qualities. As the sessions progressed, NCAA facilitators worked with each athlete to formulate strategies for defining and then bringing back their own leadership styles to campus.

A huge part of the workshops consisted of working through real-life leadership scenarios with fellow attendees at the conference. The challenging situations simulated the real problems of college student-athletes by throwing us off our game and forcing us to respond in a timely and confident manner.

A typical scenario would proceed as follows:

“Let’s say there is a verbal or physical conflict between two friends or teammates, a problematic incident on the playing field or even a racially motivated issue on campus. How would you respond? How could you diffuse or mediate the situation? Who would you go to for help? How might a situation impact your team or campus culture?”

We were pushed to think outside of the box and come up with ways to remedy the situation—an emotionally taxing venture.

College athletes are a tough bunch. Opening up, especially to athletic peers, isn’t always the easiest thing.

One of the most memorable parts of the event was that the NCAA facilitators created an environment in which leaders were comfortable being vulnerable. In our opinion, this is what made the event so special.

After only three days, and a lot of difficult conversations with people we had never met before, we felt a deep connection with some of the most motivated, talented team leaders in all of college athletics.

A huge part of the experience was our study of The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. After studying his speeches, we competed in timed challenges to see which of the various groups at the event could assemble the most community service packages.

These care bags, consisting of basic necessities such as toiletries, warm clothing, blankets and hand sanitizer, were all sent to a local homeless shelter upon completion of the conference.

We were proud to help assemble several hundred of these bags in only an hour of timed packing!

After our study of Dr. King’s leadership values and the community service portion of the trip, we were lucky enough to go see the recently constructed monument of Dr. King on the National Mall. Not only was our field trip to the monuments a highlight of our free time there, but it was also a fitting end to our experience in D.C.

Finally, during our time at the conference, every scenario was geared toward what we would do to tackle dilemmas at our individual colleges. Therefore, part of our duty in attending the forum as representatives of Vassar was to use our platform to highlight issues that require student-athlete leadership on campus.

As Vassar student-athletes, we recognize that tension between the athletic community (around one-fourth of the student body) and the remainder of the general student body is a very real issue at our school.

Through talking to other athletes from elite liberal arts institutions, we learned that this issue is clearly not exclusive to Vassar. As student-athletes, we are proud to say that our Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the Vassar Athletic Department are prepared to work together to bridge this divide on campus. Members of SAAC have even started reaching out to VSA to talk about the divide. As athletes who have sometimes felt alienated from the rest of the community, this is exciting, real-time progress!

We are so grateful for our experience and proud to represent Vassar on the national stage. At the same time, as campus student-athlete leaders, we are persistent in our hope to bring transformational positive change to certain aspects of our campus culture.

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