Jackie Robinson film prompts sports diversity conversation

Ivory Easton, Staff writer

In the midst of navigating the unforeseen circumstances of the pandemic and striving to create a diverse, inclusive space, Multicultural Student Services and Campus Involvement put together a film and a panel discussion to honor Black History Month on Feb. 8.

The best and safest way to conduct this event was through a virtual movie screening. By including as many campus partners as possible, the event helped to create unity across campus, knowing that efforts to end racism and unite students cannot just come from one office.

“If we as a university truly believe in and value diversity and inclusion, we must all come together to further these efforts,” Sam Beckas, Activities and Spirit coordinator, said. “This is a prime example of the reputation and integrity of this university as well as the values that were put in place by the Sisters of Mercy.”

Beckas initiated planning and consulted with the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, Averill Earls, Ph.D., to pull together faculty that have a wide array of insight and knowledge about various diversity, inclusion and African American history topics.

Additionally, Janiece Withers, president of the RSCO Black Students for Unity assisted in the selection and coordination of the movie series.

By choosing the film “42,” the discussion covered race and honor through the life of the first black athlete to play in Major League Baseball.

The film starred Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson. Boseman is best known for his role in “Black Panther,” in which his performance touched the lives of many because of his portrayal of a black hero.

The guest panel for this movie screening consisted of two faculty members and one staff member: assistant professor of Sports Business Management, John Parente, D. Ed., and Sports Business Management program director William Jeffress, along with football’s Assistant Head Coach, Ryan Riemedio.

The event was a free and encouraged discussion from attendees.

Students, faculty and staff who watched the film discussed the difficulty of oppression and pressure on racial minorities, specifically tied to how that had a negative effect on the start of Jackie Robinson’s career.

A large focus was that sometimes these conversations are uncomfortable, but it is important that we continue to have them and keep our minds open to these topics.

The encouragement of his allies and close peers helped Robinson to achieve his dreams.

Another large portion of the discussion was focused on the limiting expectations of how certain individuals should look and act. This has a very important impact, which is why conversations about diversity and inclusion are necessary.

“Listening and opening your mind to what somebody else’s perspective is is crucial in learning and understanding,” Beckas said.

Throughout the semester the student body will see many faculty and staff members from across the campus facilitating these movie screenings and discussions. The next movie screening will be “12 Years a Slave” on Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. The discussion will be hosted by English department chair, Brian Reed, Ph.D., associate provost, John Olszowka and Withers.

These events are open to faculty, staff and students. The Cultural Awareness Calendar on the Multicultural Student Services HUB page is also a great way for members of the Mercyhurst community to celebrate diversity.

This calendar features awareness months, holidays, remembrances and historical events from many different cultures as well as information and activities about how they will be commemorated on campus.