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The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

The Student News Site of Utica University

The Tangerine

Former Utica College women’s basketball star hopes to spark a change with petition

Photo: Utica College Athletics

Former Utica College Women’s Basketball star Nicolette Conkin used a heartfelt Instagram post last month to open up about her story as a collegiate athlete with an eating disorder. 

In her Instagram post, Conkin went into detail about the various things she struggled with during her time as an NCAA Division III women’s basketball player. As Conkin, a second-year student in the DPT program and in her fifth total year at UC approaches her first winter in 15 years without basketball, she said now is the right time to advocate for mental health in order to eliminate the negative stigma associated with it. 

“When I shared my story, I wanted people to realize that it’s okay to seek help because no one is obligated to tell the whole world their issues, but it takes a lot of guts and self-love to realize that you need help,” Conkin said. “I would love to abolish the stereotype of someone that ‘looks like they have an eating disorder.’ You can’t just look at someone and assume/not assume they have an eating disorder based on their appearance.”

Mental health comes in all shapes and sizes and it is an important thing to recognize, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the NCAA, the rates of reported mental health concerns experienced during the pandemic were 1.5 to two times higher than have been historically reported by NCAA student-athletes in pre-pandemic studies.

After taking some time to research, Conkin thought it was in the best interest of all student-athletes to create a petition directed towards Utica College, to improve the mental health and education resources for athletes.

“I started this petition because I wanted to provide something useful to UC student-athletes, being an alum,” Conkin said. “We often hear the stories of athletes struggling with their mental health and it’s vital that our college can provide them with the resources necessary. I think we lack in that department a bit, so I wanted to start a petition and provide ideas to UC, so they can build off of them.”

Currently, Conkin’s petition has begun to attract attention, as it has reached over 335 signatures in just over a week. A notable person who has seen the petition is Utica College Athletic Director Dave Fontaine.

Fontaine, who is a former student-athlete himself, acknowledged that mental health is something that should be taken seriously by everyone and the petition could possibly be a step in the right direction for Utica College.

“Nicolette has a very good point because mental health is important for all students and student-athletes alike,” Fontaine said. “As a former student-athlete herself, she sees over 700 student-athletes and a great need in athletics for additional support. Not only do athletics need access to support, but the entire institution does and I think that at this time, the institution is doing the best they can to provide those resources to everyone.”

Although there are currently no specific counselors for just athletics, Utica College offers counseling services for anyone who is in need of support. These counselors are readily available. However, making an appointment to see one might be difficult for some.

“I feel that making an appointment with any counselor or therapist is a daunting task because not everyone feels comfortable talking to a stranger that they’ve yet to converse with,” Conkin said. “In my petition, I suggested a counselor dedicated to UC athletics that offered optional sessions of guided meditation, coping mechanisms, etc., to all teams at least every other week. If athletes begin to build a relationship with a counselor, they may feel more comfortable seeking out help when they need it.”

If someone would like to schedule an appointment with a counselor but does not feel comfortable doing so, there are many different ways they can go about making an appointment.

“If a student is having trouble, they can have me or their coach call over to the counseling center for them to make an appointment if needed,” Fontaine said. “We would most certainly help bridge that gap between the counseling center and the student in need of assistance. Sometimes it is a very difficult first step for people to take and I want to let everyone know that if we can help them and be advocates for them, then we will absolutely do just that.”

Fontaine also added that he understands the difficulties with asking for help, but there is no need to be embarrassed because many people need extra help at times.

“To all of our students and student-athletes, if you need assistance, please step up and say something and we will point you in the right direction and get you the assistance you need,” Fontaine said. “Sometimes people have ways of masking things because they don’t want people to know because they’re afraid. I promise there is nothing to be embarrassed about and there is nothing to be afraid of.”

If you or someone you know is in need of student counseling services, additional information regarding those services can be found here.

Due to the various hiring processes, it is unlikely that a counselor for just athletics would be implemented immediately. Although the change most likely won’t happen overnight, there is a possibility the student-athletes in the near future can see something like this happen at Utica College.

Even if the change isn’t done instantaneously, that doesn’t change Conkin’s mind about having that change.

“I’m hoping that this petition sparks a change at Utica College with our athletes, and then hopefully it can widen to the rest of our student population because everyone deserves equitable access to mental health resources,” Conkin said. “If I didn’t have an affluent family to pay for my resources, there is little chance that I would be in recovery. These are changes that should be made not only at Utica College but at every college worldwide.”

You can help her by checking out and signing her petition that can be found here

When talking about Conkin, Fontaine spoke highly of her and said he was happy to see her advocating for positive change.

“She is one of the pride and joys of Utica College as she built herself into not only a tremendous basketball player but a tremendous individual,” Fontaine said.

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About the Contributor
Matthew Breault, Editor-in-Chief
Name: Matthew Breault Class Year: Senior Major: Communication and Media Concentration: Sports Journalism Previous Position: Assistant Sports Editor (2020-2021)    

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