In the wake of the protests and racial activism of last summer, Penn women's soccer, along with the other seven Ivy League teams, formed the Justice Coalition to further their commitment to advancing social justice issues in their communities.
The formation of the Justice Coalition marks the first time that all eight teams have come together to work on a long-term project. The initiative was started by the women’s soccer coaches, who shared a similar passion for social justice and felt that the teams could have a more powerful impact if they worked together.
“We are part of really important communities where we feel like we can lead,” Penn women's soccer head coach Casey Brown said. “In the wake of all these movements and social justice, we want to be at the forefront. We didn't want to just be performative, we wanted to be actionable and really help organize something meaningful.”
Since its inception, the Justice Coalition has focused on three main areas: education, action, and leadership. They have created subcommittees to better achieve these goals, including Logistics and Operations, Social Media, Education, and Civic Engagement.
“There is a kind of a default to complacency and our organization is working to get rid of that to light a fire,” junior Lucy Kellogg, the Penn representative on the Operations and Logistics subcommittee, said. “The continued systematic oppression of Black people is not going away just because we talked about it once, just because the protests are over in some areas. We want to continue to be the group that's actively working against those systems and engaging others.”
In the fall, the Justice Coalition mostly focused on the 2020 U.S. election. The representatives worked to register all members of their teams to vote and encouraged them to be involved in electoral politics.
This semester, the teams have focused on racial injustice. For example, over winter break, the civic engagement committee worked on a holiday donation drive to benefit Black families.
“Having those really tangible actionable steps says something and forces people to have conversations that you might not always have,” senior Jadyn Wilensky, member of the Civic Engagement subcommittee, said. “Having this team identity, big team goals, and being able to say that we want to be educated in this way is something that both makes me feel supported as a Black player on the soccer team and also makes me feel like I'm part of a team that I’m very proud to say that I'm a part of.”
The Justice Coalition was also especially active on social media during Black History Month. The Social Media subcommittee spearheaded the Hidden Gems series, where they featured a person from each university on their Instagram and recognized their unseen accomplishments. They also made a post highlighting Black-owned businesses near their campuses, and recognized Black historical figures who graduated from each university.
“Sports in general is much more than just the game, it really is a platform for talking about other things,” junior JoJo Cotto, member of the Social Media subcommittee, said. “The entire purpose of the justice coalition is to really challenge other schools to do the same and we want to set a really good example. Also, for the little girls that want to play in the Ivy League one day, just letting them know that we are so much more than just a sports team. We are here to engage with our community and try to make change in the world.”
The impact of the Justice Coalition on the women’s soccer team extends beyond the three student representatives from Penn. One of the Justice League’s goals is to ensure that their players are educated about modern issues. As such, all eight teams read or watched a movie highlighting a social justice-related issue every week during winter break. Kellogg felt that the movie “When They See Us” had a particularly strong impact among the girls on the team.
“Part of what we're aiming to address is that we have to overcome this white fragility,” Kellogg said. “Our team benefited a lot from it in terms of being able to talk to each other about the things that are important in life, being vulnerable with each other, and also recognizing our own privilege. It set the tone that we're not going to stand anything that is not anti-racist. Essentially, we want to be more than just anti-racist, we want to be actively contributing to deconstruct those systems that allowed for this to happen.”
Kellogg and her team are also working on a survey to be sent out to all Ivy League sports teams to see what gaps players believe must be filled in order to further equity and justice in the student-athlete experience.
Initially, the Coalition experienced some hurdles in organizing themselves and working on initiatives. For example, although the group is not technically affiliated with the Ivy League, they still have to ensure that they comply with the Ivy League standards.
“An obstacle we’re figuring out is what our relationship is to the Ivy League,” Wilensky said. “Coming up with our identity right now is something that we're working on.”
However, as the year has gone on, the members have been better able to define their goals and navigate the system of getting events off the ground. Brown said that she is proud of her students and feels that their initiatives have built a culture of committing to education and social justice in the sports community.
“Turning passion into action and change is a little bit difficult, but this is where I just commend everyone that's been a part of it,” Brown said. “I think the echo is well beyond those immediate members and more in every single program’s locker room, and we hope in the greater soccer community, in the greater Philadelphia community, and in every school’s greater community.”
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