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A Conversation With Penn State Swimmer Olivia Jack

Penn State swimmer Olivia Jack has had a pretty active career in Happy Valley so far.

As an athlete, she trains and competes in the pool. But as a Black woman, she uses her voice and platform to speak out on the injustices minorities face in this country.

Jack helped to create a website called “Athletes For Equal Rights,” which has resources for people who experience racism and ways for people to share their own experiences in regards to racism. It also combines social justice numbers and statistics with exercise routines.

We sat down with Jack to talk about the website, how student-athletes can continue the conversation surrounding racism, and what the next steps are for those movements moving forward.

Onward State: Can you explain what your website is about and how it came to be?

Olivia Jack: I actually was not the first person to start the website. I reached out to the creator, who is a high school athlete, a few days after the site went live.

Athletes For Equal Rights is a place where athletes of any caliber of athleticism can go and find workouts that are connected to statistics about social injustices. Right now, the statistics are mainly focused around the injustices Black people currently face, and each week is based off of a certain topic. For example, if the week topic was incarceration rates, each day of that week would have a workout connected to incarceration rates.

There is another section that focuses on resources. So there are websites for research purposes, literature based education, and resources for people to donate money too.

The last part of the website is for Black athletes from any athletic ability level to tell stories that have to do with any of their experiences. The way they write the story is completely up to them. Whatever they talk about is completely up to them. It’s a safe space to share their thoughts.

Honestly, we made it because it is a topic that needs to be covered over a long period of time, kind of like the marathon effect. You can’t really just have a protest and expect things to change. As long as people are constantly made aware that these issues are going on, then the movement towards more positive change will continue.

OS: Why was exercise the vehicle you chose to spread your message of social justice?

OJ: First, we [the person who created the site and me] were both at home in quarantine, and everything was shut down. So, we were doing exercises on our own as we didn’t have pools or team activities to stay in shape. This was an outlet for us to work out. It was also a way to exercise both our bodies and minds.

OS: How has the response been from fellow Penn State athletes?

OJ: My teammates and coaches have been very supportive of my website. A few other athletes from Penn State have sent in their stories for the website. Overall, it’s mainly been my friends within athletics who have been vocal supporters.

I could see there being more support, specifically from football and basketball players. I think that would help raise awareness of the site, but I also don’t really like asking others for support. But I am appreciative of my friends who have been big supporters.

OS: Do you think student-athletes have a much bigger voice than they have had in the past?

OJ: I think so. However, there are a bunch of repercussions that go along with using our voice. It’s hard to show our opinions and maintain the identity that fans and the school has created for us. As Penn State athletes, we have this image that we need to keep. If we speak up and someone higher up in the school doesn’t agree with that statement, there is a greater chance that we can be punished.

Now, people are starting to realize that talking about our thoughts and opinions are more important than the punishment that might come. In the end, shouldn’t we all be able to say how we are feeling?

OS: What would you like to continue to build upon with your website in the future?

OJ: I would like to keep adding to both the stories and the workout parts of the website. We have taken a little break due to the election and class, as it is also important that we stay up on our own stuff too.

Working on more workouts that aren’t necessarily more intensive, so like yoga workouts so that people get a chance to breathe. Also adding more stories is a big goal of mine as well.

Jack’s interview is part of an ongoing Onward State series of conversations with race relations, social justice, and diversity experts at Penn State. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider reading our interviews with social justice professor Ashley Patterson, race relations professor Sam Richards, College of the Liberal Arts Dean Clarence Lang, Restorative Justice Initiative director Efrain Marimon, Multicultural Engineering Program director Dr. Lauren Griggs, history and African American studies professor Amira Rose Davis, or education professor Royel Johnson.

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About the Author

Owen Abbey

Owen Abbey was a Secondary Education major before he graduated from the wonderful institution known as Penn State. When he was not writing for the blog, he enjoyed rooting for the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, supporting Penn State basketball and softball, dreaming of all of the ways he would win the TV show "Survivor," and yes mom, actually doing school work. All of this work prepared him to teach his own class of students, which was always his true passion. He still can be found on Twitter @theowenabbey and can be reached for questions and comments at [email protected]

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