The UNL Minority Student Athlete Collective: Working to improve experiences for minority student athletes at UNL

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Hannah Michelle Bussa
CONTRIBUTOR

Members of UNL’s Minority Student Athlete Collective on the day of their rally. Photo courtesy of Michael Knowles.

Student athletes at UNL have formed the Minority Student Athlete Collective (MSAC). They released a list of requests, including a public statement that Black Lives Matter as well as increased representation of people of color for staff, coaches, and sports psychologists.

Michael Knowles, a UNL track athlete from Omaha, said, “Our goal is to improve the minority experience and education for ourselves and others on the struggles and triumphs of people of color.”

The list of requests came together through a collective effort. Knowles explained, “Overall, we felt like the list of requests is something that should be the standard or start of a more equal experience for all athletes.”

Sadio Fenner, a UNL cross country and track and field athlete from Colorado Springs, explained the process of this list of requests as well: “We sat down as a leadership team with a broad array of topics and then narrowed it down…from there, we made a document where people could collectively contribute to writing the letter.”

“We added the first page defending the Black Lives Matter movement and addressing the current problems in the world and the administration’s lack of acknowledgement to them,” added Sam Phillips, a UNL men’s gymnast from West Hills, California.

The administration’s response to these requests is not moving as quickly as they requested.

“We have met with the athletic administration a couple of times. They have agreed to move forward on the requests, but it has been a busy time due to COVID,” Knowles said. He added, “They have hired a few people of color onto the staff.”

Phillips added, “Other than them agreeing to fulfill the requests, I actually do not know if there has been any action towards fulfilling the requests physically. I know they sent out Black Lives Matter Adidas shirts to all the teams, but besides that, I can’t speak on what they have done yet. We are hoping to reapply pressure soon.”

As for the community, reactions have been largely supportive. However, that has not been the only response.

“There are some who believe that what we as a group are doing is terrorism and that we should stick to just sports because we are athletes, not people,” Fenner said.

Knowles said, “I did see a few fans comment on the rally and how we should stay in our lane and focus on school and sports instead of a rally… but it’s about a fight for human rights and what’s right for all people involved.”

Luckily, other responses have been more positive. Phillips said, “More people are joining the fight.”

Knowles mentioned how people can join: “It’s important to use your voice and social media to continue to educate yourself when it comes to people’s experiences. Also, don’t be scared to hold others accountable and help with people’s experiences.”

Each of these men spoke at the rally last month.

Phillips said, “My speech was titled, ‘The Buried Baggage of Being Black,’ and I talked about the emotional and mental baggage that being Black in America can have on a person. From watching the killing of our people every day on TV, to being forced to constantly speak and perform activism ignoring our own mental struggles, and constantly being followed by the fear of discrimination and violent acts of racism performed against you everywhere you go…being Black in America can be a constant battle. The baggage we carry from our history in this country is heavy and still weighs down on our psyche and lives today.”

Knowles said, “It’s important to use your platform and voice to improve the world and continue to promote change. I quoted Malcolm X to close my speech as well, because he is an Omaha native too.” He quoted Malcolm X, “We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity.”

In his speech, Fenner focused on the broader picture. “This rally, these stories, and these narratives are indicative of a national, and even international, experience, not one that is specifically tied to our community…this is a challenge to all who will listen…this is not an attack, this is a challenge. A challenge to be what you say you are and become what you know you can be.”

Fenner also read a poem of his, which included,

“So how do you respond to your soul being

Mishandled

Misinterpreted

Misunderstood

Misrepresented

Mistreated

Mis-colored

before the words even leave your mouth.

That’s me.

 

A being that’s already been shaded by this world

Not because of who I actually am

But because of what I’m painted to be.

Me.”

 

The MSAC can be found on Instagram @ nebraska_msac.

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