Living Truth Nicholle Aston '17

Standing at 6-foot-2 and wearing Cornell gear so comfortably it looks like a second skin, there is little doubt on first appearance that senior Nicholle Aston is an athlete. But look closer and you’ll see something else.

You will see a young woman who wears her truth just as comfortably as that Cornell gear.

You will see a first-team Academic All-District selection with a 3.76 GPA in biology and society with a triple minor, who carries her books in a Cornell women’s basketball backpack adorned with a pride pin.

You will see a SoCal native who uses her position as the Education and Advocacy Intern at Cornell’s LGBT Resource Center to try and make the world a little bit of a better place.

You will see a student-athlete who has used the love and support from her parents, teammates, and coaches to erase insecurity, allowing her to concentrate on becoming one of the best players on the court for the Big Red over the past two seasons.

You will see the well-rounded, well-adjusted person that Aston has become during her time at Cornell.

What you won’t see is the years of internal struggle that brought her to where she is now.

Aston came to East Hill as a closeted, confused, self-proclaimed “emotional wreck.” Dealing with parents that had guessed about her sexuality just months before she left for college and hundreds of miles away from her first-ever girlfriend, she felt emotionally isolated and overwhelmed during her first few weeks on campus.

“At first it was rough,” says Aston. “My parents didn’t know how to deal with it properly, and I can’t fault them for that because neither did I. Now they’re amazing. They’re both so supportive of who I’m becoming as a person.”

But that parental support started to come months after Aston first arrived at Cornell and the pressure and self-doubt was evident the first time she met her teammates.

“It was Freshman Orientation Week and I was at the basketball seniors’ house and I forget exactly what prompted it, but I just started crying,” says Aston. Two of the team’s captains ushered her away from the group and Aston began the process of coming out to her brand new teammates. “I didn’t know what to do, because I just wanted them to like me. But they immediately reassured me that it was fine.”

Once she had the support of the upperclassmen, she came out to her classmates, and eventually the coaching staff through assistant coach Val Klopfer.

“One of the reasons that I committed to Cornell was that I felt a sense of commonality with Coach K,” says Aston. “I hadn’t totally figured out my sexuality at that point, but I just knew that she’d be a good ally.”

Aston found other allies shortly after arriving on campus by visiting Cornell’s LGBT Resource Center. The director at the time suggested a few student groups, and she got to work on finding peace and a community.

“I lacked a queer community before coming to Cornell,” says Aston, who attended an all-girl Catholic high school. “Even coming from Los Angeles. In reality, I come from a really small suburb. I had a lot of friends, but having a community is so important. I didn’t have that at all in high school and I felt very isolated.”

Early in her sophomore year, Aston was approached by Brian Patchcoski, who had just been appointed the Associate Dean of Students & Director of the LGBT Resource Center. To Aston’s shock, he suggested that she apply to be his Education and Advocacy Intern.

“I told him, ‘I have been out for less than a year. I have about three gay friends. I have limited contacts and limited knowledge. And I know nothing about the Trans community.’ I was convinced there were so many better candidates and that I wasn’t qualified,” says Aston. “But he said, ‘No. I think this will be good for you too.’ And he convinced me to take the job.”

Clockwise from top: Aston with friends at the LA Pride Parade; Aston with Brian Patchcoski at the Lavender Graduation; Aston working an LGBT Resource Center table with Liz McKinney.

Aston spent her first two months in the position utilizing the Center’s resource library to educate herself, and it wasn’t long before Patchcoski put her in charge of two of the Center’s annual events – the Transgender Day of Remembrance in the fall and Lavender Graduation in the spring.

“Both events are real tearjerkers,” says Aston. “Aside from helping students to become more comfortable with themselves, seeing people come out to support one another is just the most rewarding thing that I do at the Center.”

Last spring, Aston also helped Cornell’s chapter of Athlete Ally to bring U.S. women’s soccer national team member Megan Rapinoe to campus, making a connection that resulted in her being named president of the group for the 2016-17 academic year.

Aston’s growth both personally and as a leader in Cornell’s LGBTQQIA+ community has been mirrored on the basketball court. After averaging just 11.3 minutes per game and scoring a mere 84 points during her entire freshman season, she has gone on to start, finishing second on the team in scoring over each of the last two seasons. She enters her senior year ranked among the top 30 in Cornell history in career points (30th – 694), rebounds (24th – 429), defensive rebounds (13th – 287), offensive rebounds (17th – 142), and blocked shots (20th – 32).

“My freshman year I really grew a lot as a person,” she says. “I was being tested both on and off the basketball court. My character, and my mental strength were tested every step of the way. Coach [Dayna] Smith has made me grow as a person. Because of her, I can look at myself in the mirror and push myself when I don’t think I have anything left in the tank.”

In addition to pushing Aston, Smith is just another in a long line of people that have supported the senior forward on her journey.

“Coach Smith has a heart of gold,” says Aston. “She has been so accepting. Overall, the circle I keep is very accepting. I hit the jackpot here, and I’m so thankful for that. Had I gone anywhere else I think it could have been a completely different road. To be able to become my own person in college is the best gift that Cornell could have given me.”

When you look at Aston closely, you will see be a better version of the girl who came to Cornell four years ago.

You will see a woman that has fought for social justice and has worked tirelessly to strengthen the ties between the LGBTQQIA+ communities and the general population.

You will see an athlete that will graduate as one of the top players in Big Red women’s basketball history.

You will see a student comfortable enough in her own skin to help others find that same inner peace and comfort in theirs.

That’s the gift that Aston has returned to Cornell.

Credits:

Photos courtesy: Patrick Shanahan, Darl Zehr, Nicole Aston

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