The Voices and Faces Project: Anna Freund
Anna Freund is a junior captain of the Smith College Crew team and an E-Board member of the Smith College Club Ice Hockey team. She earned NEWMAC Academic All-Conference Honors in 2018. She is also a 2018 CRCA National Scholar Athlete Division III and a Benson Award Winner in 2017 and 2018.
Tell me your story at Smith.
I've played hockey since I started high school. Initially, when I was looking for colleges, I was looking for a club team because I was definitely not good enough to play hockey [at the Division III level]. I read Boys in the Boat, which is really cliché, and I was like oh I should try rowing because I love a good pain sport, but I'm too short, so I'll wait till college when there's nothing to lose. I came here and talked to the coach at the time, Karen Klinger. She was like, “Yeah, I'll try it out and if it doesn't work you can be a coxswain or you just aren't on the team. It's no biggie.” I tried it out and…here I am. I started in the novice program my first year and I learned how to row under Clare Doyle who is now the head coach.
It was a fun time. It was interesting to learn a sport that I'd never really seen or heard of because it's a pretty upper class, white sport. I'm from Maine. There’s definitely rowing in Maine, but it's not as publicized as lacrosse, or track, or soccer, or any of the conventional [sports]. I think the novice class I started with, there are only three of us left who are still on the team. It was a pretty healthy mix of just everyone. No one knew how to row but it was different races, different identities, and definitely different heights, which matters. Then people just started self-selecting out.
Once we finished winter training and started our indoor spring, I was approached by a coxswain, Coco. She was like, “Hey Anna, we're gonna have an Asian crew [team] dinner, will you join?” Up until then I'd never really like thought about race in terms of crew because coming from Maine and playing hockey, it's always very white dominated. It's just like this is normal. What's diversity? Never heard of her. I really struggled with even going because I'm adopted.
It's interesting because I'll always get biases of a person of color, but internally I never feel like I should, in a way. I mean, no one should get them. I was always like oh this doesn't make sense because I'm just as white as you are, but yet you're asking me, “Oh, where are you from? You speak great English’’… a bunch of bullshit like that.
I went to the first dinner and that was our first team POC dinner because while we were there, Coco was like, “What if we open it up to the other POC?” There were only five of us so that's a pretty small dinner. We did, and then it turned into this weekly, really fun dinner and we didn't necessarily bring race into the conversation, but we all sat around like, “How are you doing? Wow, this really sucks.” At the time, almost all of us ended up in the same boat. It wasn’t intentional, but it kind of felt side-intentional that all the POC were in the same boat. And it was like a lower boat, and we were like, “Wow, our race got canceled that's great. No warning.” Coco graduated because she was a senior, so then I was like I can help co-lead [POC dinner] my sophomore year and I'm still helping lead it as a junior. It's evolved into every week. We just hang out and talk about…I don't even know what…we usually end up talking about like Starbucks, what drinks are out, which is really dumb. At one point, we end up on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and wow this is kind of dumb, but like I love these people.
It's kind of depressing though because there's so few of us. I think at our height we were 12 and we're a team of 40, which is pretty good for general diversity on a team. Now we're getting smaller and smaller as people go abroad and graduate and just live their life.
What are some moments that you've really felt your identity on your team?
I really feel it when we're doing our warmups. For crew, you always end up in this one basin where all the boats circle right before your start and take their lanes, or even in a head race just before you start. I always notice it when I look around and there's so few [people of color] and it's very obvious when you see like POC in other boats, and when we look at other Smith boats, it's very few.
Crew carries a stigma of being generally upper class too, because it's expensive to be near water, to be with boats, and all of the needed equipment. That's when I feel the most out, like it's noticeable.
I always have this fear of not wanting to go to the trailer by myself because I'm always afraid for some very odd reason. Even last year [wearing] Smith crew gear, I’m worried that someone's gonna be like, “Why are you at this trailer? What are you doing? Is this your trailer?” And that seems very uncomfortable. Even though this is my trailer, this is my team, this is my school. To the public, I feel out of place. I always feel it when I see my parents because they are white and I'm not. I always have this feeling of someone's like, “Oh, why is that white family hugging this Asian child? That doesn't add up…where's her Asian parents?” It’s awkward because those are my parents, just like this is my school, but it's not obvious to everyone. I'm always waiting for someone to be like, “Hmmmm, why are you here? What are you doing with these people?” You know, when like it's very much still my space even though it's not apparent.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about your experience in sport, here or beyond?
I think it's interesting being in a place where diversity is openly talked about, because in my high school it was very much not talked about. I was with someone else and we were like, “Oh, it's so weird that we're the only two POC.” That was that. Here, it's a conversation and the crew team actively works to promote inclusivity on the team and making it feel like a safe space so that people who are coming to the table with different identities and different experiences can feel accepted and welcomed.
Not just people of color, but allies and other white people who come to Smith will learn, “Oh, this is something that I will have to care about to be on a team and be successful. Smith is also caring about diversity.” It's an education process that I think some people just don't factor in when they look at schools, but it happens, just by making friends with POC or being on a team and its environment.
We definitely have conversations where our coach will present questions relating to various identities, racial, socioeconomic, just varying identities and we'll talk about it within small groups of seven. We’ll be like, “These are my experiences” and we’ll just share and we'll talk and exchange that way. Another POC and I on the team really want to make it obvious, especially in our sport. It's very white, and there's very few of us, so let’s celebrate what we have, but also we need to change so that we can foster more POC to come. That's when we did a movement relating to shirts about respect[ing] me as a POC, like here I am. We put numbers on them to show how few there were of us on the team of 40 or something like that, in the fall. We were thinking, “This isn't just a crew team problem, this is probably all [of] athletics if you look around.” Most of the teams are around four POC and that's something that we also want to call attention to for the department and being like, “Hey, when you're recruiting, start trying to think about adding some more places in, to look at more places and get more athletes because there's definitely athletes that fit each team's requirements that just aren't being seen.” But also how can you change your [team] culture so that they feel comforted and welcomed on this team instead of trying to just blend in and get by.
We started reaching out to other teams, and we didn't want to tell the department about it because we wanted them to be surprised in a way like, “Wow, our athletes care about diversity.” We knew they cared, but we wanted to push it to the forefront of the things on their list to worry about and think about because recruiting season was in its peak. We just wanted them to start thinking about it, and really actively think about like how can we change it. How can we change our own culture with our existing members to make it better? There was an ally shirt that was intended to highlight members on the team that definitely encapsulate what an ally [acts like]. Some teams did and some didn't. Each team kind of took its own spin on it. It was [used] to increase conversations about what it means to be an ally and how can I be an ally. The main message for that was starting conversations, and in crew’s case continuing the conversations, of how can we make our space better, what needs to be done in terms of coaches caring about the culture or changing the culture, but also players working on how they can actively make it better for incoming students and current students.
Do you think Smith was the right decision?
I think it was the right choice because I was definitely able to start a sport that I always wanted to and it was the right program and the right timing to join. It’s more exposure in terms of that, but also it's the people, and it's also helped me develop into who I am and embrace an identity that I've always had. Until Smith, I was like I'm not a POC. I can't connect to these people because I don't have Asian parents. I'm not culturally non-white. Then coming to Smith, I was like, we do connect because I still get these biases. I still get the “You're very smart, not to sound stereotypical”, all of these microaggressions that I took in high school, but never really thought about the basis for why I got them. Smith has helped me come into who I am as a POC athlete in a white space, in an all white sport. I think like in high school I just like, I saw myself as white. Every so often I'd get random microaggressions. Then coming to Smith I was like, wait all of these things line up because I am Chinese, but I'm also very American culturally.
When people see a photo of me without knowing me, they're going to see Asian first, female second, and a bunch of other identities. Without even talking to me, they'll judge me off of that. Coming to Smith helped me grow into it, and be proud of it. I'm an adopted Asian athlete who carries microaggressions that are very odd and shouldn't happen in general. I think Smith gave me the space and the people to talk to about that identity too, and develop it into something that I'm no longer like oh, my parents ditched me but like this is where I am, this is what I know…I'm here, these are my parents, this is what I do.