RINDGE — Over the summer, Franklin Pierce University women’s soccer head coach Jonathan Garber was inspired by the protests that took place all across the United States.
So, he sprung into action, starting a new club on campus, the Justice in Action Athletic Alliance, or JAAA.
The goal of the club, run by student-athletes on campus, is to educate the community about the various social injustices across the nation and to give students a voice to make change.
“I just felt motivated to take more action to spread more awareness and solidarity to the community here at Franklin Pierce and the surrounding area as well,” Garber said. “I believed that I had a responsibility to take a more proactive role in the community which I’m in.”
In July, Garber put together a Zoom meeting of all the student athletes on campus and pitched his idea. Two students in particular, senior Zach Brehmeyer and junior Alena Masterson took a strong interest and were voted as co-presidents of the club in August.
“I’ve always had a passion for speaking out against injustice in the world,” said Brehmeyer, a member of the football team. “With everything that happened this summer, it really made me want to try to do something to make a difference.”
“We can hopefully … have these conversations that get everyone to have a better understanding and make lasting change to society,” said Masterson, a member of the track and cross country teams.
FPU women’s lacrosse head coach, Caitlin Sweeney, stepped up to serve as co-vice president with Garber.
“Just meeting the students and hearing all their perspectives and what they want to see changed in the world — it’s actually really inspiring,” Sweeney said.
Although JAAA is a new group, they have already made an impact in the community, organizing peaceful protests and other events, over Zoom when necessary, to help spread their message.
Even though the group is run by student athletes, it’s open to the entire FPU community. As a matter of fact, Garber said one of the group’s goals is to expand across the entire campus and beyond.
“Given the fact that athletics naturally create such an amazing platform for people to come together, first starting it with athletes on campus is important … but that platform is one we want to use to bring in everyone from the community, not just athletes, and that’s really the next step for us,” Garber said.
“We want to make it clear that every student, faculty member, community member in the Ringe area is welcome to come to our meetings and be a part of JAAA,” Brehmeyer said. “We’re all about inclusion and diversity and just having all types of people involved with our organization.”
Garber said the group has already started building bridges with other organizations on campus, such as Students of Faith and ALANA (African American, Latino, Asian and Native American).
“At the end of the day, we’re all looking to create more solidarity between different groups and the population around us,” Garber said. “Our ability to connect with non-student-athletes is crucial.”
They have also made presentations to different classes across campus and recently presented to the school president and senior staff.
“We’re very, very appreciative of the fact that we have an administration here that’s been nothing short of 100 percent supportive of our students,” Garber said. “The support and the appreciation from the senior staff and the president was quite refreshing.”
Garber and Sweeney both said the feedback they’ve received has been all positive, to the point that other universities are reaching out to them, hoping to start a program like JAAA on their own campuses.
Although the feedback has been positive so far, Garber recognized that it likely won’t always be that way. He encourages everyone to reach out to the group, even with critical feedback, he said. The group is reachable on Twitter and Instagram @FPURavens_JAAA, and by email as well at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I understand as time goes on we’re going to face some more obstacles, some more challenges,” Garber said. “But as a whole right now we have a community that’s clearly behind us.”
Masterson, co-president of the group, said one of the main goals of the group is to give students and people around the community a place where they know their voice will be heard.
“We understand that as an individual, you may feel like you don’t have as much power, but when we’re together we’re so much louder and we can do so much more,” Masterson said.
Not only that, but she wants to make sure the group continues long after her time as a student at FPU comes to an end.
“We’re continuing to set the foundation to make this a lasting program,” Masterson said. “When I first started, I said I wanted to make something that outlasts my time here. We want this to grow and be more empowered and be around for a long time because it’s so important and it’s so crucial to not only the campus community but the community that surrounds us.”
To get involved with JAAA, which is open to anyone, even outside of the FPU community, the best way to reach out to the group is to send them a direct message on social media and they are also reachable via email.
“We really just want to educate and help people feel understood,” Brehmeyer said.