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Black Student-Athletes of Carleton lead campus-wide march against racial injustice

On Saturday, September 26, roughly 1,000 students and faculty members participated in the “No Mo’ in Nofo” march, organized by the newly-founded Black Student-Athletes of Carleton (BSAC). The march was a demonstration of unity among Carleton students and an expression against police brutality as well as institutional racism. Traversing campus, the procession began at the Bald Spot and made its way through downtown Northfield, culminating at City Hall.

Jancyn Appel, a sophomore on the women’s volleyball team and the co-founder of BSAC, was pleased with the turnout. “It’s cliche to say ‘I didn’t think people would actually come,’ but I certainly didn’t think so many people would turn out.” 

With an estimated 60% of on-campus students in attendance, the march demonstrated a yearning among students for racial equality on campus, Appel believes. 

Jay Haws, a sophomore defensive back on the football team, felt compelled to attend for multiple reasons. “I participated in the march not just out of support for their cause, which is obviously something I wanted to do, but more importantly to display my support, and the support of our athletic community as a whole, for our Black student-athletes.”

Lane Maitland

Appel and her peers across Carleton’s Black athletic community recognized the need to form BSAC this past June after the death of Geroge Floyd and the subsequent call for racial justice which enveloped the nation.

The racial turmoil prompted BSAC to consider ways it could organize to foster a more equitable campus environment at Carleton. “We agreed that change needed to be made on our campus, and we were looking for a place where we could make a direct impact,” Appel said. 

Ultimately, BSAC decided to direct their attention toward lingering inequalities within Carleton’s athletic programs.

Appel expanded on the importance of BSAC at a place like Carleton, where Black athletes are severely underrepresented across varsity rosters. “Athletics are widely perceived as a Black-heavy space. However, when I first arrived at Carleton, I found there were fewer than 20 Black athletes from a pool of hundreds… this really led me to wonder why we have so few Black coaches, Black players and Black recruits.”

“Every athlete knows what it’s like to be tired. To come up from the water breathless, to arise from a tackle winded, or to finish the last stride across the finish line. However, that chance to breathe is not made available for black people across this country. We are tired of colorism. We are tired of racial profiling. We are tired of having to tiptoe around the law because of centuries-old connotations when it comes to our skin color.”  

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After connecting virtually with one another over the summer, BSAC members delivered a public statement and a list of demands for the Physical Education, Athletics and Recreation (PEAR) Department. 

In the statement, BSAC implored the college to commit towards diversifying coaching staffs and recruiting pools across its varsity athletic programs.

“In the classes of 2021-2023, Carleton College has a dozen black student-athletes. Several Carleton sports teams currently have no Black student-athletes at all. Looking towards our class of 2024 and future Carls, this must change. Carleton College and the Carleton Athletic Department must stand in solidarity with Black student-athletes,” the statement, posted on Instagram, read.

Appel suggested ways in which these demands could be implemented into action, including information panels between Black recruits and Black-interest groups on campus and heightened recruiting efforts in urban minority areas.

Matin Yazdi
Matin Yazdi

While BSAC considered the march to be a great success, it was not free of complications. The march was initially planned to take place during the first week of classes, but due to concerns from students and faculty about COVID-19-related safety guidelines, the march was postponed. 

The PEAR department reached out to Appel and proposed a date for October, but September 26 was eventually settled on. “I was uncomfortable waiting so long,” said Appel. ”I felt like we could lose momentum.” 

To adhere to social distancing guidelines, participants donned masks and organized themselves in separate pods. Many wore black and some carried signs, but the procession was mostly silent.

The venerable Harry Williams, Laird Bell Professor of History, likened the march to a similar demonstration in 1917. “Saturday’s march reminded me of the NAACP’s Silent Protest Parade down New York’s Fifth Avenue in July 1917: a demand for justice and an end to lynching.” 

Similar to “No Mo’ in NoFo,” the NAACP’s demonstration in 1917 stemmed from racial violence. Around that time, a strong Black working-class community had emerged in East St. Louis, and in the summer of 1917, tensions over the hiring of Black workers came to a head. Thousands of white workers attacked the Black community. Dozens of innocent Blacks were lynched while entire neighborhoods were burnt to the ground. 

In response to the hateful nature of the attack and the indifference of St. Louis police, the NAACP organized a march of nearly 10,000 people down Fifth Avenue in New York City. Carrying signs demanding racial justice, the protestors were completely silent. The powerful demonstration is considered among the first public protests for civil rights in American history. 

The recently retired Williams, who began teaching at Carleton in 1989, dedicated his career to the subject of African American History. “Given the fear of COVID and a seeming uptick in campus political conservatism, the large turnout gathered on the Bald Spot before marching through the campus gate near the townhouses pleased me to no end,”  he said.

Matin Yazdi

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