Black Student Center is Home Away From Court for Basketball Star
By Brian Hiro
There are two places where Dynnah Buckner has found the most sanctuary during her decorated career at Cal State San Marcos.
The first is the basketball court, where she was one of the driving forces behind the ascension of the Cougars’ women’s program into one of the most successful in NCAA Division II over the last few seasons.
The second is the Black Student Center, which long has been her oasis away from athletics.
“I am extremely grateful for the Black Student Center,” Buckner said. “It has been life-changing for me, honestly.”
Buckner has been involved with the center, at least sparingly, almost from the day she stepped foot on campus as a 17-year-old freshman back in 2018. But her participation ramped up during the COVID-19 pandemic when the campus was virtual and seemingly everyone was seeking ways to feel more connected with the CSUSM community and less isolated at home.
Now, as her five years at CSUSM come to a close, Buckner stands at the heart of the Black Student Center – she doesn’t work there, but she might as well given how much time she spends in it and how vital she is to its operations.
Buckner is one of 260 Black undergraduate and graduate students who have been invited to attend the annual Sankofa recognition ceremony for Black graduates. The event, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, will take place on Thursday, May 11.
“Dynnah radiates greatness,” said Shanelle Watkins, assistant director of the Black Student Center. “She’s so pleasant, professional and eager to learn and assist. As a student-athlete, she’s very busy but still makes time to serve in multiple roles for the center.”
Watkins met Buckner soon after she was hired as coordinator of Black student success initiatives in 2021. Watkins became the staff adviser for a new center program called Circle of Sisters, a support network for Black women at CSUSM, and Buckner quickly agreed to sign on as the first student coordinator.
Circle of Sisters now includes more than 30 members, and the program that launched virtually because of the pandemic meets monthly in person for gatherings on such topics as navigating Black girl friendships, reproductive wellness and group yoga.
“We serve each other,” Buckner said of the Circle of Sisters. “We push each other academically, and we support each other emotionally. It’s pretty much a connection community and making sure we’re all in line.”
Buckner also is a member of the Black Student Union, and last semester she joined the Ujamaa Achievement Program, a Black Student Center group that’s dedicated to academic excellence, leadership development, professional advancement and community engagement. An important component of the program is mentorship, and Buckner’s mentor is none other than Watkins.
Buckner describes Watkins as “one of the most inviting people I have ever met” and “like a light in the room.” Watkins, in turn, sees a lot of herself in Buckner as a fellow Black woman who graduated from CSUSM in 2013 with a degree in sociology (Buckner is a double major in sociology and psychology).
“Her courage and willingness to seek out mentorship and her personal morals, values and goals that she set for herself during her higher education journey and beyond remind me a lot of myself when I was in undergrad,” Watkins said.
Watkins says Buckner, as a fifth-year senior, has served as a kind of big sister to other women in the Black Student Center, but she’s a literal big sister to one of them. For the last two years, she has shared the center and the basketball court with Deannah Buckner, a member of the Circle of Sisters and a sophomore on the Cougars’ team.
“It’s the highlight of my college career to be able to be with my sister,” Dynnah Buckner said. “We definitely have gotten a lot closer, and to play with her at the collegiate level, that doesn’t happen often. That’s something that I will cherish forever.”
During her basketball career at CSUSM, Buckner started all 112 games in which she appeared across four seasons (her junior year was wiped out by the pandemic). She was named to the All-California Collegiate Athletic Association first team each of her last two years, and she was the Cougars’ leading scorer this past season as CSUSM went 25-6 and reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s tournament for the first time.
In her last three seasons, she helped lead the Cougars to a cumulative record of 72-16 and their first three trips to the NCAA tournament.
After graduation next month, Buckner plans to return to her hometown of Rancho Cucamonga to work as a substitute teacher before she heads overseas to continue her basketball career, likely in France or Spain. When she hangs up her sneakers for good, she aspires to earn a master’s degree in business administration or leadership management and enter a business field.
“I was able to be a part of something great. I was able to be a part of making history,” she said of playing basketball at CSUSM. “It's been life-changing, not just the basketball aspect, but in terms of community and leadership and working under pressure – all the valuable skills that I can take into the real world when I work with other people. I will always be thankful for that experience.”
Brian Hiro, Communications Specialist
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