By Emily Freer
At the beginning of this year, William Peace University’s Women’s Basketball Team made the decision to not compete in the Divisional Championship Game to stand in solitude with a teammate who was suspended because of her response to racial slurs.
After this was announced, various student organizations, such as The Student Government Association (now known as The Student Government and Programming Board), Black Student Union, and The Peace Times, voiced their support of their decision on social media. Individuals also showcased their support by singing and sharing the team’s petition.
As Pacers head into the final months of the year, they are reminded by the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, SAAC, that “Change Starts With Us.” This is the phrase printed onto t-shirts that were handed out mid October.
Kierra Williams, a junior at WPU, is not only a co-captain for the Women’s Basketball Team but also serves as the Vice President of SAAC. She explains that the initiative for the shirts began last semester, but they could not arrive in time.
“It was just a way that the student athletes could stand behind the women’s basketball team,” said Williams, “A lot of them wanted to show support and stand with us and that was a way they went about doing so.”
Matthew Monroe, a senior at WPU, serves as the treasurer of the Black Student Union. He commented on the shirts, saying that it initially seems like performative activism.
“We wanna make sure that the people that are saying [that] change start with us, make sure we are first partakers of that fruit.” said Monroe.
So has change actually happened?
“I’ve seen a little something. Could it be better? 100%.” according to Monroe.
Williams shared that an internal review was conducted for the athletic department and that training has occurred for the faculty, but no serious regulation changes by USA South. She said that they made “blanket statements” about the situation but never directly addressed it.
“From a player’s standpoint, it seemed more like the regulations that they did implement were for the USA South benefit, not necessarily for the students.” said Williams.
Although several months have gone by since this incident, that doesn’t mean that students cannot continue to change campus culture. One way to cultivate change is by having conversations according to Williams.
“I think really starting a conversation is important,” said Williams, “Just having uncomfortable conversations around things like this incident and racial bias and bias in general are really important, especially at predominantly white campuses like Peace.”
Monroe encourages students to engage with WPU’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office, saying that it is here for a reason.
“This is a PWI, when you have a low level of other demographics, Black people, Latinx students, LGBTQIA students, you need this type of office there to help educate and you need to do the education yourself,” said Monroe, “It’s not on me to educate you.”
He also advises that if you are in space, listen to understand. He explained that the phrase means that you do not go into a space assuming what is best for a group of people.
“Sometimes if you listen you can formulate better what you can do to better help them–not automatically assume.” said Monroe.
Williams reflected one way her and her teammates created change was by utilizing the power of their voices that students hold by making hard decisions.
“The statement we made was pretty impactful and there was a lot weighing on it and it wasn’t an easy decision for us to come to as a team,” said Williams, “and I think making hard decisions is one of the ways you can really make change.”
Another way to create change is by holding yourself and others accountable according to Monroe.
“If you see something and you know it’s not right, say something,” said Monroe, “Be that one person to go ‘you know what, that’s not right we’re doing that to that person’ cause we don’t know what they’re going through.”
Although change is something that seems to be slowly occurring on our campus, it was not enough for the player to return to the team. Williams said that she believes that her teammate was not supported by the university or department.
“Overall, we, as a university and as an athletic department, just need to do a better job of advocating for our students and being there for the students,” said Williams.
Monroe echoes Williams’ thoughts by adding that there should have been more care and urgency with this situation.
“Everyone else in the school did not back up her as much as we needed to, we moved too slow. said Monroe, “And if we’re going to tell students that students are first, that should’ve shown in that situation.”
Photo: Instagram Post by William Peace SAAC