In September 2020, Boston College Athletics announced a new student-athlete led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative: Eagles for Equality (E4E).
During their inaugural year, Eagles for Equality was housed as a sub-committee of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), reporting to the general committee with Jewel Strawberry ’22 serving as the director. In light of Eagles for Equality becoming its own entity this year, Strawberry sat down to discuss the evolution of E4E, the organization's origins, and what the future held.
While Strawberry would deny taking sole responsibility for the organization, without her, Eagles for Equality would not exist in any recognizable way. Born out of the pain and overwhelming isolation of the summer of 2020 and the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others, Strawberry admitted that Eagles for Equality's creation was “reactive, we should have already had corrective steps in place… but it's progress.”
In response to the trauma, Strawberry began speaking out on her personal social media and supporting other college athletes who were speaking out as well. Through speaking out and finding her voice, Strawberry was approached by Jade Morris and Caitlin Barros, both of whom worked in Student-Athlete development, to lead the DEI sub-committee of SAAC. Strawberry’s answer was “of course, it’s a no-brainer,” although she admits, “I really had no idea what I was getting into.”
From there, Eagles for Equality morphed into its own entity, taking its name from a football meeting and coming up with a mission statement while the organization was still a part of SAAC. Officially, the statement includes four pillars: unity, support, educate, and outreach, as well as declaring the mission “to build a more inclusive environment for all marginalized student-athletes, and to improve their experience.”
Armed with a mission statement, the goal of the first semester was education. “It was a lot of 'read these books to learn about anti-racism,' 'read these books to learn about policing and police brutality',” Strawberry outlined.
Still in the midst of the pandemic, E4E business was conducted over zoom, where town halls and meetings were organized to increase awareness of specific issues.
Throughout the process of organizing events such as the town halls, it became clear that there was “no need for the overlap” between E4E and SAAC. Crossover still exists, as Strawberry herself is both the president of Eagles for Equality and a member of SAAC, but the organization no longer meets with SAAC or shares social media.
The separation happened “organically” at the end of spring 2021, with E4E formally rebranding into a separate organization at the start of the Fall Semester.
Although the mission statement has not formally changed, those on the board of Eagles for Equality have their own interpretations of what the statement means.
Strawberry defines the mission as: “To bring people together. To educate our athletic community, but also outreach to the general population to support each other. To work together to build an environment of belonging.”
Noting that the formal mission statement involved inclusivity, Strawberry took a moment to share her personal preference for using belonging instead. “Including feels like othering, but belonging is like ‘I belong, we all belong.'”
Sydney Moore ’23, Head of Outreach and Events, spoke passionately about her role in the organization and the mission statement. Moore didn’t mince words describing the mission of E4E as a space “to allow student-athletes to use their platform. To have their voices heard and uplift the voices of other marginalized people, specifically on BC’s campus to help make it more inclusive… because it can be tough being at a PWI (predominately white institution) and living in a society that’s focused on heterosexuality, and not focusing on the issues of people of color or people with disabilities.”
As the head of outreach and events, Moore helps to plan events and coordinates the logistics of transportation and organization. Her favorite event happened this year: a Black History Month paint night, which was also the first event she organized herself. The goal was to “celebrate Black history” in a collaborative, fun manner that celebrated “recognizing Black history—the beauty in it and the excellence of being Black.” The event involved a collaboration with the AHANA leadership council that featured ten poems from Black creatives and writers that served as the inspiration for the student paintings.
Amos Shapiro-Thompson ’23, part of Education and Awareness, considered the mission statement carefully. “Mainly it’s about amplifying the voices of marginalized people on campus and student-athletes, and reaching out to think about how we can get more involved in the community.”
Shapiro-Thompson emphasized that uplifting voices in the community is about both those on campus and those in the wider community to “be involved, be connected to what’s happening outside of our bubbles.”
Within the structure of Eagles for Equality, Shapiro-Thompson is the person responsible for crafting the watch, read, listen, learn lists posted monthly to the organization’s Instagram.
The lists of educational resources allow followers to immerse themselves in the history and struggles of different groups in order to educate themselves about specific issues through easily accessible materials.
Since Eagles for Equality exists as a relatively new organization on campus, both Strawberry and Moore addressed a few misconceptions lingering around the name.
For Strawberry, it’s important to note that Eagles for Equality is a diversity, equity, and inclusion group, which means the organization goes beyond any singular cause such as Black Lives Matter. The organization encompasses “celebrating every marginalized group on this campus and across the country.”
Acknowledging that E4E entered the public eye with Black Lives Matter messaging, Strawberry could see how the misconception started, but stressed that no singular issue defined Eagles for Equality.
Moore also clarified a common misconception surrounding Eagles for Equality: who the organization is open to. “Eagles for Equality is a very new organization so a lot of people don’t realize that the meetings are open to everyone,” Moore clarified.
Events such as the Women’s History Month Unity Walk are open to everyone on campus, student-athlete or not. “Eagles for Equality is really trying to help build a relationship with the greater BC community.” Being founded and led by student-athletes does not preclude the rest of the community from engaging and participating in the organization.
One of the things that differentiates Eagles for Equality from other organizations on campus is that student-athletes have a unique platform that allows for a more public framing of issues and discussions.
Strawberry points out that student-athletes appear on television, which provides them with a lot of power while representing the university. “There’s never been one [unity walk] in athletics before. But I’d never seen a lot of people come together on campus to march, with signs and things like that, I don’t think that’s very welcomed on campus,” Strawberry pointed out. But with the support of the athletic admin, Eagles for Equality has organized three such unity walks, each for a different cause.
The unity walks have proven to be a source of community and are one of the biggest successes so far for the fledgling organization.
Shapiro-Thompson hesitated when asked about his favorite event, but settled on “the mental health one—that unity walk was really great. Just to hear different voices, people are in solidarity with each other, support each other, talk about how different things are affecting them.” Even so, he still said that he couldn’t pick a favorite event because they were all “pretty sweet.”
But the event that drew him to Eagles for Equality in the first place was the End Racism unity walk that took place last year. The walk, and the work Strawberry was doing to create meaningful spaces of conversation on campus, inspired Shapiro-Thompson to reach out and “get more involved.” Throughout the continued evolution of E4E, the space for conversation and bridge-building has remained a central tenant, thanks to Strawberry’s leadership.
The theme of inspiring more students to participate, as well as increasing awareness on campus through events and education, clearly stems from the mission statement, as well as Strawberry’s repeated emphasis on education. Still new, the organization has massive growth potential in the next few years, as student-athletes continue to use their voices and events draw a bigger crowd.
Strawberry in particular looks forward to seeing what the future holds for the organization and the ways different partnerships could potentially grow its message. Reflecting on the past two years, “I, as the leader and we, as a group, accomplished a lot more than we ever thought would happen.” Laughing, Strawberry admitted that “when we started this, we were like ‘what’s gonna happen? We’re gonna have some town halls and things like that,’ but I just really am so proud of how we’ve made a name for ourselves, and they’re going to continue to make a name for themselves.”
Wrapping up the interview, Strawberry made the case that non-student-athletes can best support Eagles for Equality by “showing up to our unity walks, showing up to events. Obviously, there will be times where we’re doing things inside of athletics, but just showing up, reaching out—we’re open. We’ll build that relationship.”
Moore echoed the call, declaring at the end of her interview, “our events are open to basically everyone. We’re here for the greater community of BC and their involvement is just as important, and uplifting their voices is just as important.”
Follow Eagles for Equality (@eaglesforequality) on Instagram to learn more about the organization and to check out the resources and events posted.
Thank you to Jewel Strawberry for graciously answering my questions in the midst of a busy week! And thank you Sydney Moore and Amos Shapiro-Thompson for adding your perspectives!