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Content warning: This article contains mentions of racial discrimination against Black people and racial slurs that can be disturbing and/or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.

Eight individuals close to the Penn rowing program described a pattern of racist remarks made by members of the men’s lightweight rowing team, as well as an allegedly inadequate response to these incidents by the University.

In interviews with The Daily Pennsylvanian, sources directly familiar with the matter alleged that members of Penn’s lightweight rowing team used racist slurs to refer to Black women’s rowers during the 2023-24 season. One member of the lightweight rowing team repeatedly used the N-word in front of other players, the sources alleged, adding that there was an insufficient response to this rower’s behavior by the team’s coaching staff and Penn Athletics officials. The rower remains on the lightweight rowing roster. 

All eight individuals who spoke with the DP asked to remain anonymous. 

“It’s pretty clear that [Penn] Athletics as a whole is lagging pretty significantly on appropriate responses toward athlete safety,” one source close to the women’s rowing program said. “… And that if [their] image isn’t called into question, it’s all going to go down quietly.”

Another source directly familiar with the situation suggested that the racist remarks were consistent with an environment tolerant of offensive behavior. 

“Penn rowing is very much known to protect its boys,” the source said.

One of the primary victims of the alleged verbal abuse was a Black member of the women’s rowing team. She recounted several specific instances of alleged racism that took place during fall 2023.

In this rower’s experience, which was corroborated by multiple sources directly familiar with Penn women’s rowing, the most frequent perpetrator of this alleged racist behavior was an individual lightweight rower. This rower had allegedly garnered a reputation for perpetuating verbal racism, including repeated use of the N-word. A source close to the lightweight rowing program also reported having directly heard the rower in question make “racist remarks.”

The women’s rower described a specific incident last fall in which she and a friend, who is also on the women’s rowing team, were greeted by the lightweight rower while they were eating together at Hill House dining hall. Both the women’s rowers were confused by the interaction, as neither had previously spoken with the lightweight rower. 

Later, they were informed by another member of the lightweight rowing team that after greeting them, the lightweight rower returned to a table where he was sitting with his teammates and made racist remarks about the women’s rowers’ appearances.

“He made a joke to the whole table saying that I looked like I came off the ‘12 Years a Slave’ ship,” the women’s rower said another lightweight rower informed her. “The whole table heard it, and they said nothing about it — they didn't shut it down."

The women's rower added that the lightweight rower had "been known to make these jokes" — yet the team "just foster[s] this environment that allows him to keep on going.”

She said that after discussing the incident with her family, her parents immediately reported the incident to the team. The women’s rower was also made aware by a lightweight rower that the team had used racist slurs to refer to her and another person of color on the women’s rowing team, including “darky” and “blackie.”

“I was just shattered …” she said. “It felt like the sense of protection or community that I had with the rowing team was shattered.”

From there, multiple sources directly familiar with the matter alleged that lightweight rowing coach Colin Farrell was made aware of the player’s alleged behavior — as well as the sport’s Penn Athletics administrator, Matt Valenti. 

Individuals on the women’s rowing team sought a significant suspension for the lightweight rower, who they believed had inflicted significant emotional damage on the team and undermined the sense of safety of the boathouse — a facility all three rowing teams share in a communal fashion. If suspended, the lightweight rower would not be permitted to participate in team activities, including practices and events, and would be barred from the boathouse until the duration of his punishment was complete.

Sources alleged that Valenti — a former NCAA champion wrestler for the Quakers who was recently named the next head coach of Penn wrestling — informed the women’s program that the lightweight rower’s actions were found not to have violated Penn’s Code of Student Conduct. They also alleged that this decision was reached privately by coaches and administrators without consulting the victims of the alleged verbal abuse.

In response to a request for comment, Penn Athletics wrote that it could not share “the details of any particular conduct case” given that student records are protected by federal privacy law. 

“Penn Athletics is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and we maintain robust anti-discrimination and student-athlete grievance policies designed to ensure a swift and appropriate response to any conduct at odds with our values,” Penn Athletics wrote in an email to the DP. “To that end, we work in close coordination with University resources such as the Division of Public Safety and Center for Community Standards and Accountability on issues involving student-athlete conduct.”

Rather than utilizing the Code of Conduct, the sources alleged that administrators decided action would be taken through the Restorative Practices process, wherein the lightweight rower would be temporarily removed from the team and forced to complete a number of rehabilitating steps, including sensitivity education and an apology to the parties he harmed.

The lightweight rower returned to the boathouse one month later. However, sources close to the women’s team alleged that he was permitted to do so without apologizing to or consulting with the victims of the alleged verbal abuse. As a result, his return blindsided one of the primary victims on the women's rowing team.

“When I saw him the first day he came back, I wasn’t really prepared,” she said. “Nobody really told me, ‘Oh, he’s coming back today.’ It was just like — my heart dropped. I was like, ‘What the f**k is this guy doing back here?’”

Another person close to the women’s team added that part of the Restorative Practices process was the "apologizing process" — "and that never happened before he returned to the boathouse.”

While the lightweight rower was reportedly given educational training during his suspension, multiple people close to Penn women’s rowing expressed dissatisfaction with the severity of his punishment. One of the victims described the punishment to the DP as a “slap on the wrist,” while another person close to the team cited a “huge lack of communication [and a] lack of support” on the part of coaches and administrators throughout the process.

After the lightweight rower’s return, sources close to the women’s team reported a series of fruitless additional meetings stretching into the spring semester. Administrators allegedly told the women's team that the details of the lightweight’s restorative training were “confidential.” 

According to one of the victims of the alleged verbal abuse, she encountered “dead end after dead end” in her dealings with Penn Athletics staff and was informed that they could not enact additional punishment or suspend the rower further because they had “just let him back in.”

“This person was removed because they brought hate into the boathouse,” one source close to the matter said. “If they are coming back, everyone should know why it's gonna be different — why the same thing won’t happen.”

One source close to the women’s program classified Penn Athletics’s responses to these incidents as “performative.” Other sources also indicated that these failures, as well as what they said was Penn’s failure to support the aforementioned victims of the alleged racism, were indicative of a greater issue throughout Penn Athletics — an attitude that prioritizes publicity over principle.

“It’s very image-preserving on [Penn] Athletics’s part …” a source close to the team said. “[They’re] trying to prove to other people they’re not racist instead of trying to fix the problem.”

“When I was recruited [to Penn], I very specifically asked my coach, ‘Being a Black person in rowing is hard. How are you guys with inclusion?’” one of the victims of the alleged racist remarks said. “And she’s like, ‘Oh, we’re so into it.’ And then this happens ….”

In comments about the lightweight program, one source close to the team said that its culture “did not seem very inclusive” and cited the socioeconomic similarities that dominate the group. The source said that while his personal interactions with the team had been primarily positive, it could stand to be more welcoming to individuals of different backgrounds.

“I will say the team is just relatively homogenous and likeminded …” he said. “Honestly, I wasn’t surprised when something like [the alleged verbal abuse] came out.”

Thirty-five members of the lightweight rowing team who were contacted individually by the DP did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. This includes the alleged perpetrator of the verbal abuse.

In the aftermath of the situation, one victim said that one of her lingering complaints was that the alleged perpetrator has not received just punishment for his actions — while she has endured a significant emotional toll from the ordeal.

“He’s never felt discomfort throughout this whole thing, and I’ve gone through so much,” the women’s rower said. “Emotionally, my team and how they react, interacting with my coaches … it’s been a lot.”

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she added. “It’s very frustrating that he did the thing that’s wrong, and I’m the one who has to suffer. I don’t feel safe at the boathouse anymore because of you.”


The Division of Public Safety’s HELP Line: 215-898-HELP (active 24/7)

Student Health and Counseling (if you have a personal or academic concern and want to talk to someone at Penn): 215-898-7021 (active 24/7)

African-American Resource Center (resource for students, staff, or faculty)

Penn Women’s Center (resource for students, staff, or faculty)