At the University of South Carolina, “Woman Up” has been a mantra of the basketball team as they've worked to achieve success on the court.
With the nation in turmoil following the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd at the hands of police, “Woman Up” has taken on a new meaning for the Gamecocks.
For Dawn Staley, it’s meant using her celebrity status to shed light on the plight of black people in America, while trying to offer solutions going forward.
This has encouraged her players to become the change they wish to see as Destiny Littleton and Olivia Thompson were spotted at a protest in downtown Columbia earlier this week.
Forward Laeticia Amihere is a rising redshirt sophomore and a recently elected Student-Athlete Advisory Committee officer.
She is currently still at home in Canada, where there are also protests after the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet. The 29-year-old Toronto woman was alone with police inside her residence and then fell from her balcony and died, leading many to demand answers.
“I think for it’s a time to really reflect on what’s going on,” she said. “I know that prior to this I may not have seen or really heard of police brutality that much in Canada. A lot of my peers have been thinking that it’s something that happens in America and we are not prone to it happening here. I think it’s been an eye-opening experience for a lot of people down here.”
Amihere said it’s led to some conversations between her and her friends regarding the steps they need to take to eradicate racism at the start and prevent racial tension from escalating in the way it has.
“I was talking to some of my friends that it’s not when somebody dies that we have to come together and start protesting,” she said. “It starts with the microaggressions that happen and the subtle racism that happens in every day life … that has a much an impact as police brutality because it piles up and once it piles up, we get protests and things start to get ugly.”
Amihere said she began having conversations about race with her parents as a young child and they’ve stuck with her into young adulthood. She added that it has been inspiring to see her head coach lead the charge because it’s most likely led to other people speaking out who otherwise would not have had the courage to.
“I think people look at others to voice their opinions,” she said. “You’ll see somebody not want to tweet because they’re scared or not know the words to say or they feel like it’s not their place to say so. I’ve had these conversations with a lot of my non-black friends … so for [Staley] to just take the step out and say ‘O.K., I’m ready for all the backlash I’m going to get because that’s not what I’m focused on, I’m focused on spreading the word and trying to help other’ and once she took that leap, a lot of others are starting to take that leap with her.”
She added that Staley speaking out not only helps give a voice to the voiceless, but also challenges the powers that be.
“It also puts pressure on them to start talking,” she said. “I know it should come from the gut and not from guilt, but I think being able to go out there and put pressure on other people, it’ll give them time to think about all of the things they need to think about and educate themselves and finally get a statement.”
Recently Amihere and some of her classmates were in a Zoom meeting when several students came on and said derogatory words. She said the incident has shown how strong the black community is at USC and that they will make their voices heard.
“Just how quick the African American community at the University of South Carolina unites, it’s really quick. They’ll unite and they’ll go on Twitter, go on social media and they’ll put pressure on the university to take action and I think that’s really important.”
The recently appointed SAAC officer said Staley’s leadership will serve as a blueprint as she tries to make change on campus.
“I take note of everything she does,” she said. “We had a team meeting yesterday and were really vocal about what’s going on and she gives a platform to speak what’s on our mind and get together and talk about things that are uncomfortable.”
She added that it will also help this upcoming season as some of the Gamecock fans, affectionately referred to as “fams,” may have a different perception of them.
“She’s been talking about if you want to be vocal, go out there and be vocal,” she said. “And that’s really important to have somebody like that behind us … we have fams from all across the world who have different political views but she’s like ‘No, we’re going to go out there and voice our opinions and whoever sticks with us, sticks with us’ and I think that’s really important.”