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Anti–Racist Activism Within Penn Athletics

Since the murder of George Floyd in June of 2020, the anti–racist/Black Lives Matter movement has grown across the United States. Floyd’s murder reminded the entire country of the prevalence of systemic racism and racially-motivated acts of hate against people of color, particularly Black Americans — and how creating change was imperative to create a better country for all Americans. 

Many organizations condemned such acts of racism and made efforts to better educate themselves and those around them about racial injustice toward Black Americans. Having witnessed the world’s reactions to Floyd’s murder, a group of dedicated Black student athletes from multiple teams at Penn came together and pushed Penn Athletics to make a vow to fight racism in June of 2020. Ever since, Penn Athletics has made significant efforts to combat racism, educate those around them, and provide actions beyond their statement.

These athletes made it a priority to work with the university’s entire athletic program to form a “Plan of Action” in June 2020. The Plan of Action, which intended to “combat racism,” included expanding implicit bias training amongst all members of the Penn Athletics community, appointing a Chief Diversity Officer for Penn Athletics, increasing civic engagement in the program — specifically within West Philadelphia — and focusing on hiring diverse Penn Athletics staff members in the future. There were a variety of other notes included in the plan, but its overall goal was to eventually make Penn Athletics an “anti–racist” organization. 

In addition to the Plan of Action, Penn Athletics created a task force dedicated to combating racism and pursuing the other goals that are outlined in the Plan of Action. The task force was made for “listening to our Black community and its allies, creating a plan, and implementing change in 2021–22 and beyond.” It’s made up of coaches, staff members, and players in the Penn Athletics community.

Since the creation of the Plan of Action, Penn Athletics has continued their efforts with help from Black student athletes. Most recently, the Penn Men’s Basketball team held a Diversity and Inclusion game against Harvard on February 12th, where they encouraged fans to wear all black, fostered unity among the student body, and informed attendees of their dedication to anti–racist actions as a program. 

Additionally, many of the individual teams within Penn Athletics have posted Instagram content meant to educate their followers, especially the men’s and women’s basketball programs. On their respective accounts, players shared personal stories and experiences as Black athletes for Black History Month. On the men’s account, players shared what they would be learning this month about Black Americans. Players also committed to things like reading books by Black authors or attending Black–owned restaurants on a weekly basis. Through these outreach efforts, Black players sparked a desire to learn about and celebrate the Black community on their teams. By sharing what they’ve learned on Instagram, they’ll hopefully inspire their followers to do the same. 

Student athletes often serve as school leaders in students’ eyes, and the student body often looks to, listens to, and trusts their students. Hopefully, other Penn students will follow these athletes in their contributions to anti–racist activism at Penn and beyond. It is imperative that students step up and start conversations to create change and progress anti–racist initiatives at Penn. Penn’s Black student athletes are one of the groups actively taking on this role with extreme dedication. 

Without a group of about 30 student athletes, actions and dedications toward change in Penn Athletics wouldn’t have become a reality, nor would they be as sustained as they are. Many of the Black athletes across the Penn Athletic teams have personal experiences with racism, some that involved law enforcement. 

I can only imagine the importance of Penn Athletics creating a community that not only condemns racist actions in our country, but vows to actively work toward ending them. Penn Athletics taking Black athletes’ suggestions pushes the entire Penn community a step closer to being a safer, better place for all Black students and members of the West Philadelphia community.

Katie is a Junior marketing major at U Penn. She likes listening to Taylor Swift, watching Netflix, and going to concerts.