‘What’s visible can really change the lens of racialized groups’

Coach Kwame Osei and Jaren Burke weigh in on the OUA anti-racism report

Kwame Osei and Jaren Burke shared their perspective on the OUA's recent Anti-Racism Report.

In early November, the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and the Indigeneity, Diaspora, Equity and Anti-racism (IDEA) in Sport Research Lab released their Anti-Racism Report to address racism in varsity sports.

This week, The Journal had the opportunity to sit down with men’s hockey’s Jaren Burke, ArtSci ’22, and the assistant coach of Queen’s Football Team, Kwame Osei, to discuss the implications of the report’s findings.

“[The report] means to me the steps are taken in terms of bringing the facts to the public,” Osei said in an interview with The Journal.

“There’s a lot of things that the general public doesn’t know […] it hasn’t been brought to the attention, so they haven’t looked at it or been aware of it, even thought it might have been right in front of their faces.”

The results from the report were provided through a questionnaire designed by the IDEAS lab. A total of 5,001 OUA members contributed to the questionnaire. The responses demonstrated disproportionate representation of white coaches and white administrators compared to white athletes.

According to Osei, most of the statistics from the report were “prior knowledge.” However, one thing that stood out to him was the question of whether there is in fact racism in varsity sports.

“When you look at the stats of the people who did answer the question, they were not part of the racialized group—that definitely shows a lot of perspective,” Osei said.

According to Osei, representation matters the most when institutions discuss implementing changes to the status quo.

“What’s visible can really change the lens of the racialized group,” he said.

Applying a metaphor to the situation, Osei explained the way non-racialized OUA coaches and athletes conceive of their reality is similar to a fish not knowing that it lives in water—unless told otherwise, they’d never know the truth of their circumstances.

“And I say this, because for me growing up, as a young Black athlete, I never saw people that look like me in positions of power within sport,” Osei said.

“I never had a Black head coach for the longest while, and that created the narrative, and the perception that Black males are Black athletes. We’re just supposed to stay in the athlete box.”

By observing his surrounding, Osei said it forms the narrative that Black athletes are “not capable” of rising above higher ranks in the field.

Osei added that such narrative changed for him when Gary Waterman became the head coach of St. Francis Xavier University’s football team.

“[He] was a Black man who looked like me, a person that I could relate to, not just on TV, but somebody in my day-to-day life who I knew, understood my struggle,” Osei said.

“Representation really matters and can pave the way for change,” he said. “Representation in the curriculum with limitation in sport— it all adds up.”

When asked how he would advocate for representation, Osei said advocating for inclusivity is equally as important.

“If we don’t have inclusion […] then there is no point in having diversity because it won’t be sustainable,” he said.

“The students that ended up coming to our schools or get recruited to our schools, they won’t stay because they won’t see themselves within the school culture—I believe that the decision makers that are part of the boards that select the athletic directors or coaches, there needs to be a diverse board,” Osei said.

For Jaren Burke, someone who actually participated in the questionnaire, putting actions instead of being “performative” plays an integral part in promoting an inclusive environment in varsity sports.

“I feel like my experience in sport was kind of backed up by the findings of the report,” Burke said.

According to Burke, it’s a matter of listening to marginalized student athletes’ concerns and issues, instead of making empty promises.

“The whole world kind of went through that reckoning period in 2020, and it was just so much like a division […] where people put out statements,” Burke said.

Additionally, when discussing whether he had every experienced micro-aggression throughout his career, Burke said he “definitely has,” but have been lucky that it was never anything explicit. He added that he’s also never experienced disproportionate treatments at Queen’s.

“Fortunately, not here at Queen’s,” he said. “Coach Brett Gibson has been awesome about that stuff, we had a roundtable on racism […] he had some conversations about it.”

Ending on a positive note, Burke said he hopes to pave a path that will allow more athletes of colour to feel safe and included.

“I ‘ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to deal with that, I’ve learned strategies to help me get through that […] I feel like speaking out about these issues is to try and make it easier for the next group coming up,” he said.

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