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Penn Men's Soccer team has formed a diversity and inclusion committee to promote social justice awareness on their field and outside in the greater Philadelphia community. Credit: Alexa Cotler

Appearing in workplaces, schools, and on soccer fields, diversity and inclusion have no bounds.

The Penn men's soccer team decided to take action and create a diversity and inclusion committee to promote social justice awareness and make a difference on the field, on Penn’s campus, and in the West Philadelphia community.

The initiative to start this committee was sparked after a smaller group of players on the team came to Penn men’s soccer coach Brian Gill with the idea of creating a cabinet of soccer players that would meet to discuss prevalent social justice issues.

“[The creation of this committee] has been an evolving process since summer, around the time of George Floyd’s murder and protests,” Gill said. “In that time frame, a lot of us coaches — not just soccer, [but] coaches across the country — were trying to figure out how to discuss these issues with our teams. We wanted to have open dialogues and to use sports as a method to take stock for what different people have been doing to raise awareness. As we were finishing up fall, a few of the guys believed we could do more. The players suggested that we could do stuff internally to raise awareness: movies, podcasts, and social justice talks in the athletic department gave the chance to listen. This was an opportunity for the guys to take a step back from soccer and take time to have more open and honest conversations about what’s going on in our world today, and how we interpret these different events.”

Spearheaded by senior Henry Sherwood Caballero, sophomore Will Schlatterer, junior Spencer Higgins, freshman Mattias Hanchard, and junior Dane Jacomen, the committee has many goals for the progress of the group. 

“[The goal of the committee] is to foster a team culture where we can listen to each other and learn about each other's feelings, and backgrounds," Caballero said. "We saw this as an opportunity to get the team closer to each other. A lot of topics we discuss can be polarizing, but our main goal isn't to create divisions between each other. The point is to accept other people’s ideas. We need to have these hard conversations."

For Caballero, understanding why diversity and inclusion are so important was the first step in establishing the committee.

“It's just fair. It's the right thing to do," Caballero said. “America was built on a legacy that exploited Black and brown bodies. We need to build a society where everyone is equal. We need higher sports representations. We see how this legacy boiled over during COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd. Now the cracks in the system are more apparent. This not only applies to Penn, but to all lives, society, and the entire world. The first step is to get the skills of putting ourselves into each other’s shoes.”

Similarly, Gill saw the formation of the committee as an obligation to the community. 

“It’s a mechanism in the campus to bring awareness to these things,” Gill said. “We need to use our platforms. We as an athletics team need to recognize that we have an obligation to show a level of unity and express well to people what is acceptable and what’s not within the walls of our program. It’s a lot of food for thought for people in institutions like ours to challenge the norms.”

Once this mindset was established, creating an agenda for the committee was the next step to take in order for its goals to be met. 

“We started biweekly meetings in late/mid-January,” Caballero said. “We hold Zoom meetings and split up into breakout groups. For Black History Month, we talked about about Black athletes and their impact on social justice. We would split up into five rooms, and then present our findings to the larger group. It’s not always about politics. It’s mainly about walking in each other’s shoes.”

Despite only being a committee of five athletes, each member hopes to make a positive impact on not only the soccer team, but Penn’s campus and the surrounding community. The first step, naturally, is to make an impact right at home.

“It's about taking it a step at a time,” Caballero said. “We need to look inwards to who we are as a team and what we can do. Making players talk brings them together. Eventually we plan to move outwards in terms of our focus. We want to have discussions with guest speakers. When it’s safe, we want to volunteer at mini-clinics at public high schools in [Philadelphia], or food drives, or homeless shelters.”

The next step would be for the team to take their platform and use it to benefit Penn students and faculty, and those in need around the West Philadelphia community.

“[Right now], we’re in phase one of inward reflecting,” Caballero said. “Eventually, we want to branch out and help [Philadelphia]. [Philadelphia] is a ‘big broke city.’ There are so many racial and ethnic problems in [Philadelphia]. We’re so lucky to be here at Penn, so we need to take advantage of our opportunities. If we have a group of people on the soccer team that can have tough conversations, then that in itself will have a positive impact on Penn. We want to contribute what we know to our fellow peers. It’s hard not having a season because we can’t use it as a platform, but we do have plans to do things such as take a knee to show solidarity to Black Lives Matter. If our peers see us, it will make our actions more impactful.”

With the committee serving as a relatively new addition to Penn men’s soccer, keeping it alive for future generations takes top priority.

“I’m consoled by being the only senior,” Caballero said. “The guys on the committee are great people. The fact that the idea came from underclassmen gives me hope. [Right now], the freshmen on our team are super diverse. This shows why these conversations are important to have. Even when I graduate, I will always be there to support them.”