Junior Quinci Mann at her basketball game on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. Mann is a member of the women's basketball team and the founder of the Ascend program. (Gracie Chavers/B&W Staff)

ASCENDing to greater heights: Quinci Mann ignites change with new student-athlete group


Quinci Mann was watching the news this summer and saw coverage of various incidents of police brutality happening around the country. The junior on the women’s basketball team noticed that several colleges were taking stands, but Lehigh was not yet one of them.

She was inspired to create Athletes Seeking Change in Educating and Nurturing Diversity, or ASCEND, a student athlete group aimed at taking Lehigh’s athletic leadership development to the next level.

Mann said the goal of the group is to make the student-athlete experience more inclusive in every aspect at Lehigh. She said she envisions ASCEND to not only create more tolerance for minorities within the athletic department, but also to attract more incoming student athletes of diverse backgrounds to attend Lehigh and become part of the Lehigh athletics community.

The Oakland, California, native said she believes student athletes have the ability to create this change on college campuses.

“It is such a great time to be an athlete because our platform gives us the power to make a difference in our communities, as seen in both other collegiate and professional sporting arenas,” Mann said.

From her Lehigh experience and what she’s gathered from other students who are in minority groups, she said it has become difficult to fit into the Lehigh athletic climate if they don’t consider themselves part of the homogeneous group.

“I wanted to make a group that gave extra support to these minority groups as well as bridge that gap of understanding so that anyone of any identity can feel at home in Lehigh Athletics,” Mann said.

With these ideas in mind, she typed up a proposal to pitch ASCEND to Lehigh’s leadership development team.

Anna Patterson, the assistant director for athletic leadership development, said she’s looking forward to ASCEND partnering with other groups on campus and within Lehigh Athletics to increase awareness and understand different identities within the community.

“It is exciting when students are driving change,” Patterson said. “Leaders need to be able to identify needs in their communities and find ways to bring people together to meet those needs.”

Mann believes that the group will increase cultural competency and awareness of all minority groups that exist within the athletic department. She said the groups include but are not limited to ethnicity, LGBTQ+, international, disabled/mental health and women.

Madeline Walsh, the co-president of Lehigh’s Student Athlete Council, said she sees the potential ASCEND will have on the athletic department and campus as a whole. She said the group ties into the Lehigh Athletics culture by providing chances for conversations that weren’t previously had.

The group will work closely together with other athletic groups like the Student Athlete Council, Athlete Ally, Community Outreach by Athletes who Care about Helping (COACH) and Student-Athlete Mentors (SAM) to help create a unified athletic department that will tackle issues throughout the university.

“Once we are able to cultivate an inclusive environment for all athletes within our own little bubble of athletics I think that we will be able to be more resourceful when it comes to creating that same environment throughout the entire Lehigh campus,” Walsh said.

ASCEND, like the other student athlete groups, requires an application process to join the pilot group. It’s looking for five to 10 qualified student athletes who share the same passion for social change. Mann believes this group will be important because it will need to set the tone for how ASCEND is going to be. The group welcomes any athlete who is passionate about social issues of diversity and inclusion.

“The battle that ASCEND is trying to fight is not an easy one,” Mann said. “It can be very difficult to talk about minority inequality and diversity at a predominantly white institution like Lehigh.”

Mann expects a bit of resistance when ASCEND starts asking tough questions about the culture climate within the athletic department but she still thinks many in the athletic department will want to get involved in the initiative.

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