Throughout the previous 18 months, various events in the United States and abroad have opened eyes to the continued racial injustice that many people face in modern societies. The unrest that has happened as a result has been a stark reminder of how there is still a significant amount of work to do in repairing relationships and bringing people together.
A group of players on Penn men’s soccer has been cognizant of these challenges. Realizing the increasing strain that these events put on individuals, especially students, several athletes including Henry Sherwood Caballero, Spencer Higgins, Dane Jacomen, Will Schlatterer, and Mattias Hanchard, created a diversity and inclusion committee. Hanchard, a rising sophomore and member of the committee active in leading discussions regarding diversity and inclusion, felt that the team needed to have conversations surrounding current events in the U.S. and diversity in general. The committee spearheaded the soccer team's involvement in the program, "A Long Talk About The Uncomfortable Truth."
“After the murder of George Floyd and the state the country was in, we felt that as a team … we needed to have something that was a part of our team culture," Hanchard said. "We oftentimes talk about the importance of commitment and loyalty. Social justice and Black Lives Matter and all of these organizations, especially now, are extremely important and should be the foundation of any team that strives to have diversity. We thought that this would be a great time to talk about it considering the state of the country.”
“A Long Talk About The Uncomfortable Truth” is an anti-racism experience that hybridizes self-guided and interactive activities. It begins with self-guided work based around a media collection that portrays the history of racism in America and its effects on society today. After this portion is completed, their “long talk” begins. This talk is a virtual conference that consists of three 90-minute calls over the course of three days. Conversations are broken up into large group discussions and smaller breakout room-style groups.
In addition to promoting diversity, an important question is how this workshop would affect team spirit. As Hanchard spoke, he noted that there were some issues with what ended up transpiring.
“[We] had to encourage our teammates to hop on board, but I think for the most part, everybody was relatively open to having this conversation,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get the turnout we really wanted but I think it was a good first step in the right direction in terms of opening the floor and opening the conversation.”
Despite this, he felt supported by a decent amount of his teammates.
“[I] thought it was great to have my teammates supporting me by participating in 'A Long Talk,'” Hanchard said. “I left 'A Long Talk' feeling like the guys on the call had my back and I hope more Penn teams start to engage in these types of discussions. I think for the most part, it will definitely help [team morale] for the future. This is essentially the first step in the right direction because we don’t want this to be the only year that we do this and it dies off or something like that. Creating this team culture that I was talking about is the most important.”
The men’s soccer team is one of the first teams at Penn to engage in an activity like "A Long Talk" and is the first men's team in the Ivy League to participate in it. Looking to the future, Hanchard believes that it is a solid move in the right direction.
“I think moving forward, I’d love to do this every year," he said. "Especially every year you get new recruits, new players, and if we did something like this across all Penn Athletics, we can get this to be really ingrained as something that is important and that something not only Penn Athletics values, but something that Penn values. If we continue to have events like this and we continue to have conversations, not only will teams grow and become closer, but it will set the tone for everything and life moving forward after Penn.”
Overall, Penn men’s soccer’s involvement with "A Long Talk" is an illustration of the depth of relationships on and off the field. Partaking in seminars and other activities such as "A Long Talk" can make Penn athletes better competitors and promote respect among athletes and students alike. As more sports return to Penn, it would appear beneficial for more teams to use different methods and find programs that will promote inclusivity and diversity among athletes.