Timely ACC Unity Week promotes equality

A cheerleader’s bag displays Tech’s Unity Week button. // Photo courtesy of Rachel Epperson

Feb. 20 marked the beginning of the winter ACC Unity Week, lasting until February 28. This week’s activities coincide with the final week of Black History Month, in order to foster unity and acceptance among athletes, administrators and the schools they represent.

“It really came about over the summer months and into early fall when there was so much going on around the topics of social justice and awareness,” said Leah Thomas, assistant athletics director for student-athlete development at the Institute. “The general concept is ultimately based on working towards unity and focusing on supporting everyone.”

This past year has brought a spotlight on systemic racism and its impact on both universities and their student body. In response to this, the ACC enacted a conference-wide “Unity Week,” with three occurring for each season of collegiate athletics. The fall Unity Week occurred in late October, and the winter one is currently in full swing. This week not only strives to promote unity but also to ensure that students feel safe and secure in their collegiate home.

“Our biggest event, Coffee with a Cop, occurred on Monday, [Feb 22],” said Thomas. “We brought in Waffle House, and it was really to try and continue to develop goodwill on campus. It’s really something we’d like to continue to do outside of unity weeks.”

Sentiment between students and law enforcement remains fraught in the year after George Floyd’s death and ensuing protests against police brutality.

In the spirit of Unity Week, Coffee with a Cop is intended to try and foster a connection between two groups within the Institute that may feel far apart.

Additionally, the ACC has designated each day with daily themes for the week.

Every ACC school participates in the all-encompassing themes, but each day’s theme remains broad. This is so that each school can have leeway in how they choose to embrace the week as a whole while still staying true to the original mission.

The theme for the entire week is “Leadership Matters”, and daily themes such as “Why Leadership Matters” and “Leadership in the Community” intend to provide guidance for both students and faculty throughout the week.

In addition to faculty contributions, student athletes are also taking charge in the week’s goals of promoting equity.

“A lot of the student athletes have, over the course of the past 18 years, talked about trying to unify the athletic department and the student body more cohesively. Many of them often feel as if they are separate entities completely, and Unity Week gives us a really good reason to reach out and try and partner,” said Thomas.

Many athletes also see this week not only as an opportunity to unite student factions but also to promote racial justice initiatives and introduce them into mainstream conversations within their respective sport.

“Unity Week gives us members of GTAA (Georgia Tech Athletic Association) and the student body a chance to celebrate those who have suffered under the hands of social injustice and systematic racism,” said Rachel Epperson, second-year BME and member of Tech’s cheerleading team.

“To me, this week means we are progressing in society, in terms of being able to identify and eliminate racism and social injustice.”

To many student athletes, Unity Week provides a much needed opportunity to make lasting change.

Both students and coaches have taken time to address these issues, and by working on bettering themselves, hope to spread unity and fellowship around campus.

“Georgia Tech Cheerleading has begun using our platforms (on social media) and voices to uplift those who have suffered,” said Epperson.

“I can tell there has been a difference on the team and in the team environment to adjust to these changes and the needs of our fellow teammates and coaches who suffer under these injustices. The team is more cautious and aware of the matter. We have all educated ourselves and strive to learn more from the first-hand experiences.”

Ultimately, Unity Week is not intended to be a one-and-done type of outreach program. Instead, the goal is to work towards a better future for every member of our campus.