Photo: Caitlin Cunningham

Hometown: Tallahassee, Fla.
: Psychology

Notable Achievements/Activities: Captain, BC women’s volleyball; member, BC Student Athlete Advisory Committee; president, Eagles for Equality; mentor and tutor for Boston-area elementary school student; Soles4Soul volunteer, New Orleans and other Louisiana communities; winner, 2021 Lou Montgomery, LaVerne Mosley, and Doxie McCoy Unity Award; April 2020 Atlantic Coast Conference Six for Service award winner; summer intern for attorney and civil rights advocate Ben Crump.

Mentors: Jade Morris and Caitlin Barros (Student-Athlete Development); Kristina Moore (Psychology); Elizabeth Bracher (Cornerstone/Courage to Know).

Post-Graduation Plans: Work for Teach for America while pursuing master’s degree, then attend law school.

Coming from a family with a strong athletic legacy—her father is former baseball star Darryl Strawberry, and her mother and three siblings all played Division 1 athletics—Strawberry began playing volleyball at an early age and blossomed into one of Florida’s top high school players. She made the transition to collegiate volleyball but an injury in 2020 forced her to re-evaluate her role in the game, and her identity as a student-athlete. However, Strawberry explored other aspects of herself through leadership opportunities and a growing interest in areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her commitment to such issues earned her the Lou Montgomery, LaVerne Mosley, and Doxie McCoy Unity Award, given to BC student-athletes who work to be change-makers and create inclusive and just environments.

What brought you to BC?

I was exploring a lot of options for college, and was leaning toward a school in Florida before visiting BC. I’d actually never heard of Boston College, but my mom had and she said, “We’re going to visit this place.” I said, “I don’t want to go so far away.” But then we went, and I just fell in love with BC. The campus is beautiful, of course, and since I prioritized academics, I found out that was a big part of what made BC special. And I thought a change of scenery would be good, too.

What kind of expectations did you have for your BC experience, and how did they change?

Looking back, I don’t think I expected to get what I got from BC. I just grew and learned a lot more about myself and the larger world. I started out wanting to be a business major, but then I took the [Cornerstone Program seminar] Courage to Know and the director, Elizabeth Bracher, after getting to know me all semester, guided me to explore other options that seemed to fit me as a person. So I took some classes in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development and ultimately decided on psych as my major in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences.

How has your athletic career influenced your life, before and during your time at BC?

Being an athlete has definitely been part of my identity, because it’s in my family roots. There’s my dad, of course, and my mom played volleyball and basketball; my older sister played volleyball at UConn. I always felt I had an opportunity to be a leader when I was on the court; but then, because of an injury, I had to learn to be a team player. I dislocated my shoulder during sophomore year, and wound up sitting out most of the following season. Then I had to pivot and figure out how I could continue to contribute. That meant thinking about who I was, not only as an athlete but a person. But in the end, I was able to play my whole senior year.

You asked yourself an important question—“Who am I?”—but it seems you were trying to answer that question even before the injury.

I’d been moving in this direction for a while. If there’s one thing I’ve learned to do at BC, it’s how to reflect—to look inside yourself and think honestly about what you’ve learned and experienced. The Courage to Know program definitely helped put me on that path. Family, School, and Society, a class I took in the Lynch School, also was important: It opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t thought about deeply, like the impact of racism.

I had leadership opportunities in high school, but I found different, and challenging, ones at BC. I joined SAAC in 2019, but at first, overall, I was doing baseline things. Then, as time went on—and especially during 2020—I found myself speaking up more and more about what was going on around us. Jade and Caitlin, from Student-Athlete Development in Athletics, said there was a need for somebody to help bring awareness to the issues surrounding racism, and asked me to run Eagles for Equality, the diversity-equity-inclusion sub-committee of SAAC. It felt like something I could do, and quickly became something I wanted to do.

I think athletes face a double standard: People tend not to take us seriously, and feel we’re not capable of using our voices or excelling in the classroom. It’s a perception of who we are. At the same time, we’re supposed to be role models, especially for kids. But when we do speak up or become active, there’s often a backlash, and people just want us to stick to playing sports.

So, was winning the Unity Award [named in part for pioneering BC Black athlete Lou Montgomery ’41] a validation?

It was an incredible honor. I learned about Lou Montgomery’s life and how much courage he had in trying to break barriers. To be associated with his name is amazing.

You have a famous father who had an accomplished professional baseball career. Has he been a resource for you?

I was used to playing volleyball at an elite level all the way through high school. But then you get to college volleyball and everyone is the best, so it wasn’t an easy adjustment. Dad gave me a lot of support and was always pushing me to be the best and to continue to grow. 
What will you miss about BC?

Meeting up with my volleyball teammates in the Eagle’s Nest. We’d talk a little bit about what went on in practice, but it also was a chance to discuss anything and everything else, to just enjoy our time together. I also liked going to watch my other athlete friends play—basketball or softball, for instance—and give them my support.

And the whole sense of community I found, like through collaborations with the AHANA Leadership Council or the Women’s Center.

College is hard, but we as students have a lot more support than most people out in the real world.

Sean Smith | University Communications | May 2022

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