No More Comfortable Ignorance
To be completely honest, I can say that for most of my life I embodied the cliché, "Ignorance is bliss." I figured there were people in charge for a reason – to fix society's problems. However, over this past year I began to take a step back and start paying attention. My awareness about the severity of racism and the modern transformation of its historical roots began to grow. I realized that something needed to be done, but I couldn't help but think "there's nothing I can do to fix it."
My late teammate Zoë, although being younger than me, was always a voice of reason for me. She taught me that change starts as soon as we are willing to take action – no matter how small.
After losing Zoë this past year, I made a promise to her and to myself that I would no longer live comfortably in my ignorance.
When Bobby Thompson, the Interim Director of Operations for the Cameron Institute, sent an invitation for the Black Student-Athlete Summit, I was hesitant to accept. Yes, I am a student-athlete. But I am not Black. Was this really something I could attend? Bobby assured me the answer was yes. I was still nervous, but I signed up. This decision turned into an amazing experience.
Throughout this three-day conference convened by Dr. Leonard Moore of the University of Texas at Austin, I had many eye-opening moments. One main theme that was brought up by several of the inspiring speakers was the idea that we are "more than an athlete." As student-athletes, we are so consumed by playing time and academics that we stunt our development outside of athletics. Our coaches constantly remind us that we are always being watched as representatives of Cal. I have always been intimidated by the notion that there are eyes everywhere, but the BSAS made me realize that we can use this platform to our advantage – to amplify Black voices, increase awareness around racism, and fight for social change.
The Black Student-Athlete summit also highlighted that personal development grows exponentially when mentorship is utilized. However, due to a lack of representation within Cal Athletics and UC Berkeley as a whole, Black student-athletes do not have enough individuals they can turn to for support and guidance right now. Field hockey is a predominantly white sport, so being half-white, half-Filipino, it was always easy for me to look up to older players, alumni, and coaches. I saw what they had accomplished and knew I could do it, too – all I had to do was follow the path they had paved. It is crucial that we address the need for more representation within our University to ensure that Black student-athletes also can turn to individuals who truly understand their experiences. Cal's athletic department is taking steps to do that. Over 50 student-athletes, coaches and staff attended the BSAS, and Dr. Ty-Ron Douglas was recently hired as the first-ever Cal Associate Athletic Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.
Every session during the conference brought new insight that encouraged me to do more to dismantle racism. But the most impactful moments happened during the student and staff reflection sessions Bobby organized for the Cal attendees. Our conversations were vulnerable, honest, and impactful. Through discussing a variety of loaded topics, brainstorming action items, and simply sharing our emotions, we built a community within a matter of minutes. The amazing people that filled my screen inspire me to be better because each one of them passionately embodies Zoë's legacy of pursuing justice.
These reflection sessions shaped me for the better. It showed me how important it is to stand up for what is right. It showed me the power of community. It showed me that change truly can start right now – so long as we are willing to make it happen.
I encourage everyone reading this to take a step back, reflect on your experiences and/or privileges, and contribute to the fight for racial justice. I am not an expert and I won't claim that attending this one conference made me one. But I will say the effects of stepping out of your comfort zone might surprise you, in the best way possible.
My journey is just beginning. I have a lot to learn, but I am ready to dive in. Society is counting on us to make change happen, and together our impact will be so much stronger. So, let's get to work.
Zoë, we won't let you down.
Brynn Zorilla is a junior on the Cal field hockey team.