When the Iowa track and field team has held meetings over the past few weeks, they haven’t been about running. They haven’t been about jumping. They haven’t been about throwing.
Instead, led by the team’s minority athletes, they’ve focused on social justice.
And they can be emotional. Especially the team’s first meeting that led to the creation of Iowa track’s Speak Your Truth diversity committee.
The committee aims to empower a team culture while actively engaging in social justice initiatives on the University of Iowa campus and in the Iowa City community.
“It was painful to listen to,” sprinter and committee co-chair Antonio Woodard said. “It was real. It was raw… That’s a gift in itself to have someone be vulnerable enough to even share that with you. It was real, and I really appreciated it.”
With the pillars of Educate, Protect, Advocate, Unity, and Empower, the organization hopes to meet needs and raise awareness for the need of mental and physical safety for minority groups at Iowa.
Its vision is “to protect and build a just future for marginalized communities with an emphasis on Black Lives, starting with the track and field team to provide a more empowering team culture.”
That has already started to take place.
Associate head coach Clive Roberts, who was selected to oversee the committee, said some of the white student-athletes on the team were shocked when they heard what some of their teammates had gone through.
As one of the most diverse and successful teams on campus, there’s arguably no better place for a committee of like Speak Your Truth to start its journey.
For the committee, it starts within the track and field team and spreads from there.
“The track and field team is one of the most successful teams here at Iowa,” Roberts said. “I think it’s important that if we are out there fighting for everyone else, we believe that we can make a significant impact and eradicate this disease they call racism.”
It made sense to the people at the top of the track and field program to foster an organization that can promote change.
“If you look at our program, we’re the most diverse program on campus between gender, race, cultural backgrounds, and where people are from,” Iowa Director of Track and Field Joey Woody said. “Kids from all over — international student-athletes, kids from California, New Jersey, Texas, and Florida. We cross a lot of different cultures, races, genders. For us, No. 1, it made sense.
“No. 2, we expect to be leaders — leaders in the community, and we expect to be leaders in the athletic department. So, this is a big thing for us.”
Woodard said the committee already has plans in the making after creating the name, vision, and mission statement.
He noted the group’s plans to hold a conversation with Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta and meet with the chiefs of police from the Iowa City, Coralville, and University of Iowa police departments.
“There are times when you need more than a seat at the table,” thrower and co-chair Laulauga Tausaga said. “You need to actually have change instead of [just] talking about those problems. Right now, we’re in the work to kind of getting what we want done.”
The change the group hopes to see starts with the committee’s members.
With Roberts overseeing the group and Woodard and Tausaga serving as co-chairs, senior Wren Renquist works as the secretary.
Committee members include Nia Britt, Serena Brown, Armando Bryson, Wayne Lawrence, Dan Soto, Tia Saunders, and Tionna Tobias.
In the eyes of Roberts, the most important thing the group brings is different perspectives. The committee knows it needs to listen to more than one person to bring the change it wants.
“When we get into that room, we may have five different ways or 10 different experiences that we maybe want to look at things,” Roberts said. “But our job when we come out of the room, we may not 100 percent always agree on the course of action, but we know our mission, we’re one million percent in agreement on the change that needs to happen.”
The next step for Speak Your Truth will take place for years to come.
Both coaches and student-athletes have been adamant about keeping the group intact down the road.
They don’t want it to be a one-year committee. They hope to see it grow as the current athletes graduate and new ones take their places.
The fact Speak Your Truth has fifth and sixth-year seniors, as well as redshirt freshmen, on its committee means it can continue from year-to-year if that’s how the organization proceeds.
“I don’t want this to be a one-time thing,” Woody said. “The platform needs to be set up for it to be a continual thing that we just continue to add more people from our program over the years. It just keeps growing and continue to keep that outreach within our program, and then within our athletic department, and then within our community.”
The program has six different event groups, so each group practices at a different time. That makes it hard for the team to be in the same room at the same time.
But with the COVID-19 crisis that has taken place, the team has found itself with more free time, which has brought the committee to the forefront. The meetings allow the unit to come together as one team, as opposed to their event groups.
The extra time has helped the committee set a foundation it hopes will carry into the future.
“Our main goal is to kind of break the chains in a sense,” Tausaga said. “We want to make sure when we leave campus, when we step off, that the next generation of Hawkeyes that come to the track program understand that this is a safe place.”