By Renee Walker, Oct. 11, 2022

A Duke University student-athlete claimed that she was called a racial slur during a match last month at Brigham Young University. After an investigation led by BYU, the university found no evidence to corroborate the alleged incident.

Rachel Richardson, an African American volleyball player at Duke University, prepared to serve when she allegedly heard a racial slur being directed toward her from the BYU student section.

The heckling continued until BYU game administrators removed the fan from the premises and banned them from future athletic events. Since the alleged incident, BYU has conducted what the university has dubbed an “extensive review,” in which they found no evidence to support Richardson’s story.

Lauren Wong | The Poly Post

Erin McFarland, education major and middle blocker for Cal Poly Pomona volleyball, expressed her frustration over the recent events.

“BYU historically is just not a very diverse or progressive school,” said McFarland. “I definitely think that the investigation is skewed in some way, you know what I mean, because if you interview any of the Duke girls, I’m sure they would all agree that they heard a racial slur and so would [Richardson’s] family members.”

In a statement released by BYU, the university vowed to take all claims of racism seriously. The university also detailed the lengths that BYU Athletics endured to ensure a thorough investigation.

“We reviewed all available video and audio recordings, including security footage and raw footage from all camera angles taken by BYUtv of the match, with broadcasting audio removed (to ensure that the noise from the stands could be heard more clearly),” stated BYU Athletics.

The university continued, “We also reached out to more than 50 individuals who attended the event: Duke athletic department personnel and student-athletes, BYU athletic department personnel and student-athletes, event security and management and fans who were in the arena that evening, including many of the fans in the on-court student section.”

The morning after the match, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe visited Richardson and her teammates at their hotel, but the initial lack of action by the university is what remains striking.

As a result of the investigation becoming national news, bigger conversations are in regards to racial bias and the protection of student-athletes. CPP Athletics Title IV Deputy Stephanie Duke, guaranteed students that protocols are in place to safeguard Bronco student-athletes, as well as visiting teams.

“If a student-athlete came to an official and it gets back to an administrator, the game administrator would then have a conversation with that particular fan and we would address the situation and escort them off the premises,” said Duke. “We are here to make sure that every athlete, ours or not, is treated with respect.”

CPP Athletics also implements precautions such as a sportsmanship introduction led by student-athletes via video message at the start of every contest, as well as sportsmanship reminders during timeouts. Yet, many student-athletes don’t have the luxury of safety from racial bias of overly rowdy crowds.

Ciara James, geography major and forward/center for CPP women’s basketball, recalls her experiences of racial bias while playing for Weber State University.

“While playing for my old school, we had an away game in Idaho,” said James. “I would get comments like ‘look at her hair,’ and ‘she looks weird.”

James recalls a teammate even being called a racial slur.

She continues, “You just have to know that going in, these states aren’t as diverse. I’ve never had that problem at Cal Poly.”

CPP and other Cal State Universities follow a strict prohibition of state-funded travel to regions with discriminatory laws. The list of prohibited states titled under California Assembly Bill 1887 include Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana, Texas, Ohio, Florida and 17 more states ranging from the Midwest to down south.

“I find it interesting that there is a list of states we can’t play in,” said James. “I think that limits us and our abilities. Of course, those states or schools aren’t diverse, but I think it’s something we can push through.”

For Richardson and her teammates, according to a released statement posted to Twitter, Richardson asks those who are following the story to not give her pity, but to address her and her teammates as proud African American women who will fight and stand against racism.

“Although the heckling eventually took a mental toll on me, I refused to allow it to stop me from doing what I love to do and what I came to BYU to do; which was to play volleyball,” said Richardson. “I refused to allow those racist bigots to feel any degree of satisfaction from thinking that their comments had “gotten to me.” So, I pushed through and finished the game.”

Thousands of universities end their games when the clock runs out. Yet, racial bias continues far beyond the court and far beyond the field. From Richardson to Broncos like McFarland and James, the battle for racial equality in collegiate athletics is just beginning as activism moves from the classroom to the locker room.

Feature image by Lauren Wong

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