Black student-athletes voiced their experiences with racism at Georgetown University in a widely shared video titled “I Can’t Breathe,” detailing the kinds of prejudice and stereotypes they face daily.
The video was released July 13 by Georgetown’s Black Student-Athlete Coalition, a newly created student-run organization that aims to support Black student-athletes and push for anti-racist reforms within Georgetown University Athletics. Organizers posted the video on BSAC’s Youtube account, where it has garnered over 3,100 views, and on its Instagram page, where it has garnered almost 5,000.
“To everyone watching, we hope this video shows the discomfort of your fellow Hoya teammates and players,” the Instagram caption reads. “We have felt uncomfortable for too long, and we hope that we can all rise together to help us all ‘breathe.’”
In the video, students discuss the racism and stereotyping they face in sports and in the classroom from university faculty, students, coaches and teammates, using the anti-racist slogan “I can’t breathe” to preface their experiences.
“I can’t breathe when my coach refers to the three Black girls on my team as ‘the sisters’ and my teammates laugh and think it’s a joke,” Lara Adekunle (NHS ’22) said of her former volleyball coach in the video.
“I can’t breathe because being a black, female, student-athlete at a predominantly white institution means not only that I have to my worth on the court, but I also have to prove my worth in the classroom, and I also have to prove it as a person walking on campus,” women’s basketball player Shanniah Wright (COL ’22) said.
The video aims to shed light on the failures of Georgetown University Athletics to provide a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for Black student-athletes, according to BSAC Co-Director of Communications and soccer player Alexis Smith (MSB ’22) (Full disclosure: Smith previously served as a member of the editorial board for The Hoya).
“I believe that the BSAC video has been a wake up call not only for the overall Georgetown community but specifically the athletic department on pitfalls that have negatively affected Black student-athletes for years,” Smith wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Among other shortcomings, coaches and administrators have not worked to facilitate conversations about race, therefore forcing Black student-athletes to carry the burden of informing their own peers about the realities of racism on campus, according to BSAC Diversity and Inclusion Representative Aniella Delafosse (COL ’23), who runs for the women’s track team.
“Personally, I feel that the Athletic Department has done a poor job in implementing structured conversations around topics of race,” Delafosse wrote in an email to The Hoya. “It’s quite disappointing to know that discussions of race are not prioritized. The department is known to mandate meetings about sexual assault and NCAA regulations however hasn’t done the same to address the racial disparities we continuously see.”
Black student-athletes discussed racism over Zoom during several affinity meetings organized by Georgetown University Athletics after the police murder of George Floyd. The safe spaces brought Black student-athletes together, eventually leading to the creation of BSAC in early June, according to BSAC Director of Finance and Treasurer and football defensive back Ahmad Wilson (MSB ’21).
“These safe spaces offered opportunities for athletes to speak about their own experiences at Georgetown and it brought students together,” Wilson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
To address racial disparities within Georgetown athletics, BSAC sent a list of demands to Georgetown University Athletics leadership following the first affinity meeting. These demands include expanded recruitment of Black student-athletes, more Black staff in the training room and in Counseling and Psychiatric Service, an established safe space for Black student-athletes and a diversity and inclusion officer provided by the Georgetown University Athletics, according to students who spoke with The Hoya. The athletics department has agreed to host more affinity meetings and increase the number of Black staff members working with Black athletes, according to Smith.
With these demands, BSAC hopes to make Black student-athletes feel more welcome and supported at Georgetown, according to Wilson.
“The main theme is to increase black representation within the athletic department from staff to athletes, with the goal of making black athletes feel comfortable,” Wilson wrote. “We are often marginalized and the subject of microaggressions as well. We want our problems to be recognized and talked about, not ignored and tucked away.”
Improved recruitment is vital because Black student-athletes are underrepresented by the university, according to BSAC Diversity and Inclusion Representative Joshua Stevens (COL ’22).
“We have been marginalized here,” Stevens wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We have been completely overlooked in all other sports but the stereotypical ones.”
As a result of the video, many Georgetown faculty members expressed their admiration for Black student-athletes and called out Georgetown University Athletics and the university for their lack of support, according to BSAC Staff Adviser Whitney Maddox (GRD ’11, ’19).
“I have received many responses ranging from colleagues congratulating our Black athletes for taking a stand and unapologetically naming that Athletics and Georgetown needs to do better with ensuring all of its members are doing their part to be an antiracist,” Maddox wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I have also had many colleagues, including myself, share that they cried while watching the video as it reminded them just how far we have yet to go as an institution and as a nation.”
Officials at Georgetown University Athletics say they are committed to supporting the university’s Black athletes and tackling campus racism.
“Through telling their stories and verbalizing the pain they have felt as Black student-athletes everyone within our department has been made aware what it means to be an ally to students, that we have more work ahead of us, and that silence is not acceptable,” Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Lee Reed wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown University Athletics has not yet reposted the BSAC video on its social media platforms because the video’s music risks violating copyright rules, according to Assistant Athletics Director for Communications Barbara Barnes. BSAC plans to change the music in the video to circumvent the copyright restrictions, Barnes says.
The fight against racial injustice will continue beyond the video, according to Delafosse. The leaders of BSAC and the Black student-athlete community will continue to persevere and fight for more support on campus.
“We, BSAC members will continue to make sure our voices are heard and that we do everything we can to build the community within athletics,” Delafosse wrote. “Most of all, we will continue to facilitate ways in which we as a department can address questions about race. As my good friend, Diversity & Inclusion Representative Rio says, We Keep going.”