Grambling State University is looking to make history as the first Historically Black College and University to offer women’s gymnastics. Plus, it has set aside $1.5 million to forgive student debt.
According to a report from The Associated Press, after Grambling hosted a gymnastic conference full of 100 Black and brown gymnasts for the Brown Girls Do Gymnastics conference, Raven Thissel explained interest in creating a full gymnastics program on its campus.
“Our university leadership is looking at young gymnasts in our community, and realizing and understanding the path from toddler gymnastics tumbling to the Olympics for a Black and brown gymnast is arduous. How can we make it a smoother one?
In one possible angle, the university’s plan to forgive $1.5 million worth of student debt can help. As a growing number of HBCUs have recognized how systemic racism and the COVID-19 pandemic has created financial and emotional challenges for today’s students and their families, canceling the debt means that it can impact the overall student experience, from mental health to retention to graduation.
For Brown Girls Do Gymnastics (BGDG), the 2015 founded organization by Derrin Moore provides “scholarships, coaching, training and other forms of support to athletes from underrepresented and marginalized groups,” which can also aid in more student-athletes choosing to go to an HBCU over a PWI (Predominantly White Institution). In addition to helping student-athletes develop, BGDG also provides workshops to assist parents with supporting their children and information on how to graduate from entry-level programs to the elite level.
“It’s just giving families a little edge,” Moore said. “We want to give them information so they can step into the gymnastics arena and be confident and advocate for their girls.”
More than half of the 18 women invited to last month’s Olympic trials were Black and Black women make up nearly 10% of the scholarship athletes at the NCAA’s Division 1 level. Also as celebratory is that more than 10% of USA Gymnastic members self-identify as Black.
Thanks to powerhouses and all-around GOATs like Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas, this uptick in student-athletes with gold medal aspirations can be a boon to HBCU athletic programs.
“Simone [Biles] has opened the eyes to so many women of color saying, ‘Hey, you can do this, too.’ It’s not just little skinny white girls that can do it. Anyone can do it,” Cecile Landi, Biles’ co-coach alongside husband Laurent, said.
For those looking to capitalize on the opportunity of the BGDG, whether applying directly through the organization or choosing to utilize Grambling University’s student debt absolution, one must have their debt be their own and not that belonging to a third party.
Grambling joins a litany of other HBCUs that have announced a debt forgiveness plan and aims to use funds from the “American Rescue Plan Act” to aid interested parties.