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Student-athletes present social justice work to Penn State trustees committee

Penn State student-athletes PJ Mustipher, left, and Anna Camden discussed student-athlete activism and social justice work during the Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations on Nov. 12

social justice work

Women’s basketball student-athlete Anna Camden and football student-athlete PJ Mustipher provided information on student-athlete activism and the social justice work of Intercollegiate Athletics, as well as its student-athletes, during the Board of Trustees Committee on Outreach, Development and Community Relations meeting on Nov. 12.


“I am so proud of our student-athletes and the tremendous social justice work they have participated in since the summer,” said Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour. “The work of our women’s basketball and football programs is a great representation of the efforts by our Intercollegiate Athletics department. We have always supported our student-athletes using their voice and platform to push for positive change or supporting causes that are important to them.”


Camden spoke of the women’s basketball program’s ‘Ignite the Change’ initiative. She explained that in the program’s motto, PRIDE, the “R” stands for respect – treat others how they want to be treated. The women’s basketball team has committed to taking purposeful steps on the fifth of every month in honor of George Floyd, who wore #5 on his basketball team. Floyd, a Black man, died during a police arrest in Minneapolis in May 2020. The Ignite the Change activities have included a candle lighting, voter registration for the team, ordering “Black Lives Matter” wristbands and watching the documentary “13” and challenging others to do so. The women’s basketball program also engaged the women’s soccer team in meaningful conversation about the film.


Penn State Trustee Brandon Short, who chairs the Board of Trustees oversight group on racism, bias and community safety, commended Camden on her efforts and those of the women’s basketball team. “It takes brave people like yourself, and your leadership to get this done,” Short said. “When it comes from someone that’s a minority, it is typically discounted because it is difficult for people to understand. So voices like yours will make the difference, which is necessary to bring about change.”


Mustipher shared with the committee that the football team had numerous discussions throughout the summer and fall regarding social justice and were encouraged by Head Coach James Franklin to express themselves by using their voice and platform as student-athletes to initiate change. Mustipher also discussed his role on the Big Ten Anti-Hate and Anti-Racism Coalition and mentioned several teammates are on different boards and committees at the University and beyond to continue to bring awareness to current issues in society.


One of Mustipher’s strategies to bring about this awareness is to be more involved in the local community.


“As a Black football player, I want to be more involved with the community and people around State College,” Mustipher said. “We’re a diverse football team but when you walk out into the community, and you don’t have your shoulder pads and football helmet on, people don’t look at you the same. You’re just another Black guy when you’re out on the town. There is no relationship there … and I want that to change.”


Mustipher also shared that members of the Penn State football program discussed how they wanted to represent a social justice movement in competition and what that representation meant to them. Following those discussions, the football program rolled out the ‘Penn State United’ campaign. The team wears a uniform patch, helmet stickers and warmup shirts with a special social justice logo to promote unity for the 2020 football season.


The logo Penn State football student-athletes will wear in competition this year symbolizes their journey for unity. The goal of Penn State United is to construct a culture of respect, appreciation and empathy for all differences, according to the student-athletes. In a press release on the effort, members of the Penn State football program said they believe, more than ever, they can help create a better society by publicly and peacefully acknowledging the student-athletes pursuit to move beyond simply tolerating differences to recognizing these differences, which can enrich the Commonwealth.


The logo, which features the outline of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with diverse interlocking hands in Penn State’s signature blue and white color, was born out of a discussion with the football program’s leadership council. Social justice work continues to be a priority for all of Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics and as other programs begin competition, they will have the ability to adopt the Penn State United logo or introduce their own social justice initiatives.