Tina Kampa brings a different perspective to the Bemidji State locker room than others.

As the only non-white person on the BSU women’s hockey team, the senior defenseman is working toward making college hockey more inclusive of racial minorities through a new initiative.

The College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiative was unveiled Wednesday night in a virtual press conference. Kampa was featured on a panel that included several of the initiative’s committee members.

“The reason why I wanted to be a part of this group is because, at the end of the day, hockey needs to be for everybody and it’s not,” Kampa said. “I don’t think it’s a secret as to why we chose to create a group like this. Hockey culture needs to be a place where people from all walks of life feel accepted and valued. Representations matters, and it is our mission to make hockey accessible and a positive experience for everyone.”

According to its website, collegehockey4dei.com, the group’s mission “is dedicated to creating positive cultural change across our sport through communication, education, allyship, and advocacy. Together we are working for a better tomorrow, one shift at a time.”

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The initiative has been in the works since last summer, when college hockey figures began meeting to discuss issues of racial and social injustice in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

A group of 27 players, coaches and administrators representing all 11 Division I hockey conferences has taken part in establishing the initiative. Kampa is representing the WCHA women’s league alongside Minnesota Duluth head coach Maura Crowell, with Alabama Huntsville defenseman Ayo Adeniye and Alaska Fairbanks administrator Terlynn Olds representing the WCHA men’s league. Other regional representatives include Minnesota defenseman Robbie Stucker and North Dakota forward Jasper Weatherby.

“The energy and commitment that this group has brought to each meeting has been inspiring,” said WCHA women’s commissioner and committee chair Jennifer Flowers. “We are united in our goal and recognize there is work to be done. The conversations we have had give me confidence that we can affect change and ensure that college hockey is a welcoming environment for all.”

The group is still developing specific projects. One way it seeks to make inroads within locker rooms is an informational video that Flowers hopes will be available to all programs by the start of next season.

Bemidji State's Tina Kampa (11) chases the puck in a game against Minnesota Duluth at the Sanford Center on Oct. 18, 2019. (Pioneer file photo)
Bemidji State's Tina Kampa (11) chases the puck in a game against Minnesota Duluth at the Sanford Center on Oct. 18, 2019. (Pioneer file photo)

‘Growing the game’

A glance at any college hockey team’s bench is enough to see the sport’s participants are predominantly white. Kampa wants to do her part to help change that.

“One thing that I really hope to do with this group is the outreach part of hockey,” she said. “So, obviously growing the game, but getting the game available to people from all different backgrounds, whether they know what hockey is or not. … It shouldn’t be a sport that’s too expensive for somebody, or it’s just not around. Especially being from Minnesota personally, that’s something that I think is totally possible.”

Kampa was adopted from Colombia and raised in Maple Grove, where she fell in love with hockey. Others from similar backgrounds are not always afforded the same opportunities.

“Being somebody who is a part of a white family who got introduced to the game, it became very easy for me to be a part of the game,” Kampa said. “But for others that’s not the case. I would love to see a bunch of little Colombian girls and boys running around playing the sport of hockey, but that’s just not something that’s realistic at this point. That’s something that I would love to give, not only Colombian (kids), but anybody.”

To raise greater awareness of racial injustice, Kampa kneeled during the national anthem before games at the start of the season.

“I approached my team before that and they were 100% super supportive of me,” she said.

As the team’s only person of color, speaking out on issues like racial inequality can be daunting.

“I think when it comes to change, you can say one thing and you can support something, but if you don’t do anything about it, there’s not going to be positive change created,” Kampa said. “And so being a person of color, I’m the only one that isn’t white in my locker room. … It is a hard line to walk because you want to do more. You want to help these people understand.”

Kampa has found like-minded colleagues within College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Collectively, she hopes the group can make a difference.

“That’s why I feel really supported in this group,” she said. “There are more people trying to do the same as me, and you don’t feel like you’re doing it alone.”