Justin Riley, a 2011 graduate of Chapman University, was an integral part of the men’s basketball team during his four years in the uniform. His name is littered across the Chapman record books, standing atop the leaderboards in games played, field goals made, both offensive and defensive rebounds, average rebounds per game, and total blocks. Justin was a force to be reckoned with both on offense and defense, ranking in the top-10 in nearly every statistical category in Chapman’s 25-year Division III history.
Nearly nine years later, Justin returned to Chapman to take on a new role – the Associate Director of Student Community Support and Development. A role, he says, that has been magnified since the world was brought to a screeching halt just a few weeks ago.
“It’s no surprise that our black students in particular have been the most impacted by these killings [Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others] and I have been working closely with them to ensure they have the necessary support to process their emotions.” The work doesn’t stop there for Justin, as he is also assisting those students with creating change on Chapman’s campus. “I worked with them hosting the Black Student Union Community Forum, which was attended by over 500 people, including President Struppa and Dean Price. I also held an open community forum for Chapman students, faculty and staff for us to come together and just process what we were all feeling.”
Justin put his talents to use all over campus, working closely with the FISH Interfaith Center and Civic Engagement Initiatives on the vigil remembering those who had lost their lives to racism and violence. He also had the incredibly unique opportunity to co-facilitate a dialogue with Jimmie C. Gardner and Dr. Prexy Nesbitt put on by the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
“The volume [of work] definitely increased for sure. It shined a light a little more on the work I’m doing with our students, and that was amplified even more with COVID-19. We almost got a double-whammy with both COVID-19 and the recent killings. I wouldn’t say my job has changed, I’d say it is allowing me to work in greater collaboration and partnership with colleagues of different departments and in academic units to address these issues on a large scale but to also address these issues on a micro- and macro- scale within the University.”
The former basketball star says he draws from his experience as a student-athlete at Chapman every day. “I am grateful for my ‘training’ as a student-athlete because it is the reason I am who I am and why I have been successful in my professional career. Everything that I have done professionally has been anchored into me being an athlete. It’s literally ingrained into my DNA.”
With everything Justin has been working on over the last few weeks, he has one challenge for his fellow alumni: “My challenge to alumni would be to engage in difficult conversations. To reach out to your old teammates and classmates who are black and check in and see how they are doing. If you have largely avoided these uncomfortable conversations about race relations in America, I would encourage you to lean into that discomfort.”
Justin’s final words are powerful for student-athlete alumni. “The great thing about sports is you interact with everyone. When you get inside the lines of whatever field or court…you’re all working together, competing for a shared goal. This time that shared goal is equality.”