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Anti-Racism in Athletics: What Students Are Doing

Haverford’s athletics program has long been the subject of criticism regarding its enabling of institutional racism within individual teams and the broader community. The formation of the Athletes of Color Coalition (AOCC) in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd demonstrated the long-standing need to dismantle racism in all forms within Haverford’s athletics, as outlined in the coalition’s June 2020 Open Letter to Wendy Smith, the college’s Director of Athletics.

Their letter highlighted the many failings in the athletic department and its perpetuation of racism on campus. Since their inception last year, the AOCC has embarked on many initiatives to create this change—initiatives that have taken on a renewed significance after the student strike for racial justice during the fall semester.

One active goal of the AOCC is to recruit a more diverse athletic population, something the athletic department has failed to do. Co-founders Jasmine Reed ’22 and Jessica Lopez ’21, both members of the women’s track & field team, described the AOCC diversity and recruiting subcommittee as being geared towards this task: aiming to “expose high school athletes with underrepresented backgrounds to our college.”

They have held multiple weekend Zoom sessions geared toward prospective first generation/low-income (FGLI) and Black, Indigenous, and student-athletes of color called “Meet Our Black Squirrels Weekend.” Even though they only conducted a few sessions during the fall semester, they have already seen the registration of almost 100 high school students in the program.

The AOCC is also working on both an institutional memory project and on individual team accountability. Lopez and Reed described the purpose of the institutional memory subcommittee as “to gather and preserve the experiences of current and former BIPOC athletes while on sports teams at Haverford.” They hope to provide a platform for athletes to be heard and foster healing.

Members of the AOCC acknowledged the damaged relationship between BIPOC and FGLI athletes with individual teams. The men’s lacrosse accountability subcommittee exemplifies this work towards reparation of trust in light of the team’s history, which has been dogged by accusations of racist behavior. Last summer, the college rescinded the admission of a recruit to the men’s lacrosse team after it emerged that he had used racist and homophobic slurs on social media. By repairing the dynamic between men’s lacrosse and the Haverford community, the team hopes that it may eventually regain the trust of BIPOC students.

While the AOCC is an independent, student-run group, they have also called upon the athletic department’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) to contribute to the work of spearheading anti-racism initiatives. Recently, SAAC formed an anti-racism subcommittee with student members Isabel Schwam ’22 (volleyball), Roxy Vassighi ’21 (field hockey), and Jesse Turkson ’21 (men’s basketball). One of the main objectives of this subcommittee is to provide an environment for all members of Haverford athletics, including both students and faculty, to further their education about race and white privilege.

One way they hope to achieve this is through the “Sustained Dialogue” program, which they have designed to mend strained relationships within athletics. Furthermore, with the help of Interim Dean of the College Joyce Bylander, SAAC initiated a series of “train the trainer” sessions focused on continued understanding and healing in athletics. They hope to revamp this program with the help of the AOCC Liaisons to SAAC, Madison Adore ’21 and Raina Gully ’21, who are on the volleyball and women’s basketball teams respectively.

In the letter to Wendy Smith, the AOCC called for a revisitation of the SAAC selection process. The SAAC anti-racism subcommittee also sees a need to review how SAAC members are selected. While they have yet to look into the details of how to change this process, members of the subcommittee said that they are hoping for the input of AOCC so that “SAAC more accurately represents all student-athletes.”

For years, Haverford students have called for anti-racist institutional restructuring, including in the elite and white culture of athletics. In the absence of clear steps towards change from Haverford’s athletics administration, AOCC has created institutional and community-wide networks to dismantle systemic racism at Haverford. The establishment of SAAC’s anti-racism subcommittee also demonstrates a positive step.

Yet, the effectiveness of SAAC, particularly the anti-racism subcommittee, in contributing to these goals remains to be seen. In order for SAAC to truly affect the culture of Haverford athletics, the very make-up—and by extension, functions—of the committee may need to change. However, this change is many years overdue.

Correction: This article originally stated that SAAC’s Executive Committee has one Black member. While the SAAC Anti-Racism Subcommittee has one Black member, there are two Black student-athletes on the Executive Committee. The Clerk apologizes for the error.

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