Black Lives Matter protests have swept the country in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. In the weeks following, reckoning came for those who have been accused of racism, including Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi.
Former Panther athletes Jordan Fields and Ian Troost have led the charge, demanding increased support for Black students at Pitt, specifically in the athletic department.
Pitt Athletics is now attempting to implement programs that partially address the concerns Fields and Troost voiced. Athletic Director Heather Lyke announced in a Tuesday blog post that the department will implement several initiatives in response to the nationwide calls for anti-racism work.
“Not only have I learned that words do matter and that we do need to say out loud that we care, but I am excited to say that we are taking actions now to fix these inequities and to show that we care deeply about our Black student-athletes, coaches and staff members and that our Department will be an ally in this fight,” Lyke said.
The first action has been the formation of the Panthers United task force, led by Penny Semaia, the senior associate athletic director for student life, with 15 student athletes, four assistant coaches, the Faculty Athletic Representative Sheila Velez, two mental health specialists, Community Director at the Bridge on Forbes Justin Carter and 19 athletic department staff members.
Lyke said this 42-person group has already met to identify five areas of focus — support, education, communication, taking action and branding. She added that the task force has initiatives that will be unveiled throughout the year.
Lyke also reiterated the importance of the Voting Matters Campaign, a department-wide program that will assist student-athletes with voter registration and filling out absentee ballots, among other voting-related activities.
Her post also mentioned the Pitt football team’s kneeling demonstration last week in Schenley Plaza to honor the death of George Floyd. A video tweeted by Narduzzi showcased the Black Lives Matter T-shirts — branded with Pitt’s panther-head logo — that Lyke said will be distributed to every member of the athletic department in “an act of unity.”
Lyke said she hopes these changes and those planned for the future will have a wide and lasting impact.
“My hope is that we are not just developing a plan for the here and now to respond to the most recent in a tragic string of events,” Lyke said. “Rather, we expect that we are all taking steps to embed this into the culture of our athletic department, University, and larger Pittsburgh community.”