The Big Ten’s Anti-Racism, Anti-Hate Coalition has been hard at work over the past two months.
Created on June 1 in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said the coalition will, “seek tangible ways to actively and constructively combat racism and hate around the world.”
The coalition is working hand in hand with the Voter Registration Initiative, which was formally launched by the Big Ten, also on June 1.
“A lot of the issues we see can be affected by who is in office,” said DaWon Baker, UNL Athletic Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Director in Life Skills and Enrichment.
One of the new policies that may happen at Nebraska, says track and cross country runner Sadio Fenner, is no sports on election day.
“We have mandatory off days,” Fenner said. “That’s one of the days we’re trying to make. When the voting actually happens, we’re trying to make it so there is nothing going on that day, so people can go out and vote.”
The University of Indiana implemented that very policy July 27, as well as several others created by brainstorming ideas during coalition meetings.
Nearly 150 athletes, coaches, chancellors, athletic directors and presidents in the coalition meet occasionally on Zoom for around 90 minutes at a time. They meet in different time slots throughout the week.
The Zoom calls start by announcing updates from the Big Ten and then go into forming ideas the institutions can do in the present and future to stop racism and hate. Baker said a lot of their conversations involve planning on how to get student-athletes to vote. The members have also been talking about different programs and policies to implement at all Big Ten schools to “eradicate racism” in the world.
Baker pointed out that the student-athletes around the conference are leading the charge.
“The student-athletes drive the vast majority of the conversations,” Baker said. “The staff are really good about urging the student athletes to say their opinions first that way their voice isn’t drowned out by the administrators and coaches on the call. As administrators and coaches, we have a lot of thoughts and opinions about what can work and the student- athletes are there to provide their experience and say what will work and what won’t.”
One of the ways members are trying to implement change is by using their presence on campus. Fenner said it’s important for them to advocate for change because they are student-athletes at Nebraska.
“A lot of people pay attention to what the Huskers do,” Fenner said. “For us, it’s providing whatever information we can to educate those around us. It’s also just being a face that some people know. A lot of people don’t know who the administrators are but know who the student athletes are. Seeing our faces makes it more personal.”
Fenner is pushing for an accountability policy, which would hold people in Nebraska’s athletic community responsible for saying something discriminatory.
“If you see or hear something that’s racial or anything regarding religion or gender or anything like that, that is discriminatory in any sort of way, somebody can actually hold you accountable for that,” Fenner said. “Within our rule books, there isn’t anything direct that says we’re going to do X, Y or Z if we catch anyone on our team doing one of these things. I think that’s something I definitely want to see changed.”
Fenner was recently named the social justice chair for UNL’s student-athlete advisory committee.
UNL’s athletic department has an annual diversity and inclusion summit where they discuss racism and diversity. Baker said the staff tries to have conversations with the each other, student-athletes and coaches throughout the year.
In recent weeks, UNL’s athletic department has been discussing ideas on how to increase education and opportunities. They have done educational challenges such as reading or listening to a podcast about diversity and hate. They then talk about it as a staff to make sure they’re understanding how these issues are affecting them in the general world and in athletics.
Before civil unrest in the country increased, UNL’s athletic department started to create a diversity and inclusion plan in late February and will look to implement the plan this year. The plan includes increasing the conversation around racism, hate, diversity and inclusion as well as more educational opportunities for the staff outside of their annual summit.
The student-athletes will celebrate diversity by spotlighting different cultural backgrounds through videos and honorary posts on social media. There will also be an international student-athlete welcome meeting to introduce them to Nebraska.
Over the last couple of months, fans of UNL sports have been seen telling student-athletes on social media to stick to sports. Baker said UNL’s athletic department does not take away their student-athletes’ voices.
“Our student-athletes are full people,” Baker said. “It’s really, really difficult to tell an individual to stick to one specific thing. Our student-athletes have very, very complex lives and issues. I don’t think it’s wrong for any of our student-athletes or anyone in general to speak out about a negative experience in their life.”
Baker says he applauds student-athletes for using their voices and their platforms to bring attention to things that impact them.
“I’m always an advocate in calling for positive change,” he said “Coaches and staff encourage their players to speak out if there is something they want to see changed.”
Baker believes their job is to inform the student-athletes and be there for them when they take a stance, such as kneeling during the national anthem.
“If that means ‘hey, we’re going to kneel’ and they need support, we’re going to try to give our best support no matter what their sport looks like,” Baker said.
Baker said he expects more instances similar to Iowa’s or Clemson’s situation to become known around the country.
“It’s hard to swallow, but racism isn’t new and it’s going to continue to happen until we all collectively decide we’re not to put up with it anymore and drive it out,” He said.
Baker said similar things could even be happening at Nebraska.
“I’m not going to deny that it does because I don’t know,” Baker said. “I’m not in every room to hear. It certainly would not be a surprise if something came up. What would be a surprise is if there wasn’t some type of reaction or some type of support that is extended out to this student-athlete or staff member who is subjected to these actions. I think we try to create a culture of accountability and a culture where we can provide the support for our student-athletes and staff.”
Fenner believes it doesn’t matter where you go, racism is always going to be there.
“I have experienced it in the past,” Fenner said. “But every time I’ve seen it, I’ve acted on it. I haven’t just brushed it off. I always address the issue as it is. If I feel like it’s an ignorant comment that came out of left field because they weren’t educated on the situation, I’ll sit that person down and talk with them. It’s one thing to say it, and it’s another thing to address it.”
Baker believes UNL has a great opportunity to become an example of what good diversity and inclusion in athletics looks like.
“For us at Nebraska, it is a very difficult but necessary conversation about how it is we can be of the change but also how we can fix things that have happened here or may happen here in the future,” He said.
“I think we are committed to that not just with my role, but with the amount of resources we put into it…I’m excited to see where we go, and I’m excited to be a part of where we go too.”
Fenner said the coalition wants to help everyone, not just athletes.
“We’re literally just trying to make it a better place for everyone.”