Skip to main content

Pac-12/SWAC Legacy Series Opens As UO Men Host Florida A&M

Nov 7, 2022

The inaugural matchups of the Pac-12/SWAC Legacy Series brought the Florida A&M men's basketball team to Eugene on Sunday, and brought Robert McCullum back for a reunion with the UO men's program.

McCullum, who was on staff under Dana Altman with the Ducks from 2014-17, is now in his fifth season as head coach with the Rattlers. He brought his team to Oregon for a matchup with the Ducks on Monday night, but also to participate in one of the first matchups in the new partnership between the Pac-12 and the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

The Pac-12/SWAC Legacy Series was announced last fall, creating a partnership between the prestigious Power 5 conference and the league made up of some of the country's most storied Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Along with home-and-home series in men's and women's basketball over the next four years, the partnership also includes educational opportunities on issues of equality and social justice.

One such opportunity occurred Sunday evening, when UO Senior Associate Athletic Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Da'Mon Merkerson hosted a panel discussion at the John E. Jaqua Academic Center. It included McCullum discussing his experience working in and around HBCUs, and the way athletics helps him encourage change across a broader spectrum — including participating in conversations on the UO campus in 2016-17 about the renaming of buildings that memorialized figures with racist beliefs.

"Sports — in this case basketball — helps to overcome so many differences," McCullum told staff and student-athletes from both Oregon and Florida A&M on Sunday night. "Nothing brings us together like sports.

"In sports it doesn't matter your last name, it doesn't matter your color, it doesn't matter what side of the tracks you grew up on. When you're out competing, enjoying the game of basketball in this case, that commonality brings us all together."

The Ducks and Rattlers will meet Monday in Matthew Knight Arena at 7 p.m., the season opener for the UO men. The two teams will complete the home-and-home series next season, on the Florida A&M campus in Tallahassee, Fla.

Before they leave town Tuesday, the Florida A&M team is scheduled to take a tour of the University of Oregon's Lyllye Reynolds-Parker Black Cultural Center led by the center's director, Dr. Aris Hall. When McCullum was at Oregon he was involved in early conversations about founding a black cultural center on campus, and now he'll tour the center with his own team.

Hall is herself a graduate of an HBCU, in her case Kentucky State.

"The reason why HBCU's are still important is because they are a vital part of our education system, specifically black individuals and also other individuals who are looking to learn more about black culture," Hall said.

The Oregon women, meanwhile, also open a home-and-home series as part of the new series this season. They'll play Nov. 14 at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., before hosting the Jags next season.

UO guard Endyia Rogers is anticipating next week's road trip and learning more through the Pac-12/SWAC Legacy Series. HBCUs produced notable members of the UO campus community including Hall, Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Dr. Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh (Dillard) and Associate Vice Provost of Diversity & Inclusion and Associate Professor Dr. Troy Elias (Claflin) — and, Rogers noted with excitement, the first Black vice president of the United States, Kamala Harris.

"She went to an HBCU and she's the vice president of the United States," Rogers said. "So you can't really put a value on that degree."

As part of the Pac-12/SWAC Legacy Series, student-athletes including UO acrobatics and tumbling team member Zoe Williams travelled this past summer to Alabama and visited prominent sites from the civil rights movement. Rogers took a similar trip while in grade school, and recalled being affected by what she learned about figures including Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Without those people, we wouldn't be in the position we are today," she said. "Those people fought for our rights. Without them, people might still be oppressed."

Last week, Merkerson hosted an educational opportunity for UO athletics staff to learn more about HBCUs. They began to flourish after the Civil War, providing access to education that otherwise wasn't available to Blacks.

"Historically Black Colleges and Universities play such an important role in our society, and especially in the lives of Black people and African-Americans specifically," Merkerson said. "While predominately white institutions like the University of Oregon provide opportunities for people of all backgrounds, HBCUs still continue to be a large producer of Black students in the STEM fields."

According to the United Negro College Fund, HBCUs in 2014 awarded 17 percent of bachelor's degrees earned by Black students in the U.S., and 24 percent of degrees earned by Black students in the "STEM" fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

"HBCUs have always played a significant role in the civil rights movements and the fight for voting rights as well," Merkerson said. "This historic partnership between the Pac-12 and SWAC allows our athletic departments and students to use our platform to bring awareness, to educate, and to take action."