Newfound Black Student-Athlete Group to hold registration drive at Vanderbilt Stadium on National Voter Registration Day

The student-run group, led by Taiya Shelby, Elijah McAllister, Olivia Simmons and Cameron Robinson, are encouraging fellow students to #AnchorYourVote.

Vanderbilt+Black+Student-Athlete+Group+to+hold+voter+registration+drive+on+Sept.+22.+%28Twitter%2F%40SportsSocietyVU%29

Vanderbilt Black Student-Athlete Group to hold voter registration drive on Sept. 22. (Twitter/@SportsSocietyVU)

Simon Gibbs, Sports Editor

With the 2020 presidential election slowly approaching, Vanderbilt’s newly formed Black Student-Athlete Group, spearheaded by Taiya Shelby, Elijah McAllister, Olivia Simmons and Cameron Robinson, is hosting an all-day voting registration event at Vanderbilt Stadium on Sept. 22.

Shelby, a junior on Vanderbilt track, and McAllister, a junior on Vanderbilt football, were inspired to establish the student-run organization after traveling to the University of Texas for the Black Student-Athlete Summit in January, according to assistant director for student-athlete development Katelen Robertson.

“The summit sparked their interest in having a Black student-athlete group at Vanderbilt,” Robertson said. “They heard from student-athletes at various institutions who had something similar, so when we got back, from January to March we fleshed out the idea.”

Over the summer, the group continued to grow, filling out its executive board with the additions of Olivia Simmons, a senior on the soccer team and Cameron Robinson, a senior on the football team.

Robertson, the group’s advisor, said that the four leaders recently submitted the application to register as an official Vanderbilt student-run organization.

“Our athletic director, Candice Lee, was all on board with this,” Robertson said. “We met with her over the summer and especially with everything going on in the world right now, she was in full support of this group. This is something in athletics that has really just been pushed forward.”

The group held three interest meetings for Black student-athletes over the summer, rounding out its inaugural group at 32 members. The four-person executive board led its first group meeting on Thursday night and plans to meet five times throughout the semester, according to Robertson.

“Each of the executive members uphold a pillar, a topic that they’re passionate about and focus on,” Robertson said. “Social justice is Olivia [Simmons’] pillar, community building both internally and externally with Black student-athletes and other Black students on campus is Taiya [Shelby’s] pillar, Black mental health is Elijah [McAllister’s] pillar and voting is Cam [Robinson’s] pillar.”

Fittingly, Robertson said the registration event, scheduled from 11 a.m. CST to 6 p.m. CST on National Voter Registration Day, was largely organized by Robinson. According to the flyer posted on Twitter by Vanderbilt’s Sports and Society initiative, students will need a mask, phone or tablet and Commodore Card to register.

“Cam is extremely passionate about changing the voting narrative and amplifying the voices of college students. He’s done a lot of research about the obstacles that deter college student voters, especially within the state of Tennessee,” Robertson said.

The group partnered with Vandy Votes, a campus organization of which six members of the Black Student-Athlete Group are members. Originally, Robertson explained, the plan was to have two smaller voting registration drives: one for student-athletes hosted out of the McGugin Center and another out of the Black Cultural Center. But in pursuit of making a greater impact, the group worked directly with campus leadership to ensure they can broaden the event’s reach while abiding by COVID-19 safety regulations.

“Cam was thinking big, so he started talking to football administrators and coaches about what it might look like for us to have it in the stadium. Coach Derek Mason could not have been more supportive,” Robertson said. “He basically said, ‘Don’t do this in the concourse, don’t do this on Jess Neely Drive. Let’s go big, and do this on the field.’”