Carleton alumna brings ‘life experience’ to campus conversationJuly 24, 2018
By Denise Spann
NORTHFIELD, Minn. – In her time as a student-athlete at Carleton College, Annie Isler made an impact on the basketball court and in the classroom. In the spring, her impact took on a new stage in the Carleton College community.
Isler was part of the Carleton women’s basketball program from 2004 to 2009. In 2008, she led the Knights to their first NCAA Division III tournament appearance since 2004.
She earned a Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) honorable mention her senior season, while leading the team with 47 steals and 57 assists. Isler was the second player in school history to have more than 200 steals and 300 assists. She shot 78.9 percent from the free-throw line, making 346 shots, ranking second all-time at Carleton.
After graduating from Carleton, Isler served as an assistant coach at her high school alma mater, Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota; De LaSalle High School in Minneapolis; University of North Dakota in Grand Forks; and Illinois State University in Normal. Today, she works in basketball operations as video coordinator for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx.
With new experiences under her belt, she was invited to back to Carleton on May 8 to be a panelist for a campus conversation facilitated by the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE).
RISE partners with universities to bring together some of the most powerful and progressive voices in race and sports to discuss their intersection and how everyone can make a difference. With student-athletes and coaches in attendance, Carleton discussed how athletics can help advance diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives on campus.
“It was humbling to finally have some life experience to relate back to what we trained and educated ourselves on as undergrads,” Isler said. “To be able to participate, talk about some relevant things and try and move the needle toward change was an honor. It was empowering that young people are having these conversations right now and to see the activeness of this generation.”
Panelists included Sheridan Blandford, inclusion and engagement coordinator, University of Wisconsin, and Carolyn H. Livingston, Carleton vice president for student life and dean of students. Accompanying Isler and the administrators on the panel was Carleton baseball player Yash Muley. Muley made an impression on Isler.
“He just seemed responsible for what was going on in his community,” Isler said. “I was excited to hear and learn from him about what he’s doing to have things be better than they are.”
Being a part of the panel allowed Muley to reflect on his first RISE experience in November, when RISE presented to 25 student-athletes with programming that included activities on identity and diversity. To Muley, the campus conversation was a necessary next step.
“I think the panel opened eyes of a lot of people who were not very active in the community,” Muley said. “Especially talking with my friends after the discussion, it showed that a lot of people were attentive during the panel and that it had a lot of takeaways … I thought it was an innovative way to get engaged; we found a baseline of what our problems are and how we can go about fixing them.”
The conversations at the event included student-athletes discussing challenges, as well as how to be productive and act on change. With so many students in the room, Isler wanted the athletes to take away the most important messages. Her three takeaways: their power, responsibility and perseverance.
“Sometimes leading from the back or leading from the middle is just as powerful, if not more so in a community, than leading from the front,” Isler said. “Wanting those student-athletes to know that they can lead from any position. Change happens everywhere … They have a responsibility to members of the Carleton community to be aware, educated and informed about what’s going on and having a vocation of making things better … It can be frustrating, defeating and deflating to not see change happen as fast as you want, but understanding it’s a process.”
With her experience in leading and interacting with high school students as a high school assistant basketball coach and student activities assistant, Isler said the first step to getting them involved in things like the campus conversation would be to teach them about their role in social justice.
“I think if young people don’t understand what their responsibilities are, it’s hard for them to see the value of these conversations,” she said. “So, it’s like teaching algebra, or chemistry, or a topic that makes sense to have a process. Social issues and social justice are the same way. It starts with teaching them what social justice is, before teaching them what it can produce.”
Getting the opportunity to empower collegiate student-athletes, Isler left the campus conversation feeling more connected to the Carleton College community.
“I think wherever this ends up, having people of all roles feel like they’re a part of the solution is important,” Isler said. “It’s all about momentum and awareness.”
Denise Spann is a summer 2018 intern for communications and marketing in RISE’s Midwest office in Detroit.