On the morning of Friday, Oct. 29, five women gathered on a stage in Nona Jo’s, the student dining center in the Walter Athletics Center. These women, all of them former Northwestern athletes, gathered to converse about their experiences at the university as student-athletes. They discussed Title IX and how Northwestern athletics still has a ways to go in terms of gender equity.

The four panelists for the event were Dr. Dionna Latimer-Hearn, an education consultant and soccer player from the School of Communication class of 1999; Sammy Nettling, a customer success manager at Google and a softball player from the class of 2018; Dr. Chinazo O. Cunningham, the commissioner of the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports and a softball player from the class of 1990; and Robin Voigt, a retired partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and a volleyball player from the class of 1977. The panel was moderated by Megan McKeown, a sports broadcaster and basketball analyst for major sports news organizations and a former NU basketball player from the Medill class of 2014.

Over the course of an hour, the panelists shared their deeply personal experiences as Northwestern athletes, and expressed how collegiate sports have been made more equitable. They stressed that the treatment of the men’s and women’s sports teams at NU is still not equitable, even though practices have come a long way since 1972.

Nettling told a story about one welcome dinner for student-athletes her senior year. The dinners she had attended previously served food from Bluestone, an American-style restaurant on Central Street and an Evanston local favorite. But that year, the dinner paired her softball team with the men’s basketball team. They were served steaks. Nettling remembers her softball coach telling the team, “There’s a reason we’re getting steaks this year and it’s because of who we’re paired with, not because of who we are.”

Voigt described equity as something that didn’t exist for her volleyball team in the 70s, saying they were “happy with crumbs.” She spoke of her astonishment at how much things have changed, but stressed that true equity has yet to be accomplished.

"We will achieve equity when we don’t have to talk about it anymore,” Voigt said.

The panelists also touched on broader issues of inequity within our society beyond sexism in athletics.

“The only way we will move forward is when we have other people in leadership, women in leadership, people of color in leadership,” Cunningham said on the lack of BIPOC representation.

She stressed that marginalized communities should not only be given a seat at the table, but be empowered to become leaders in their fields.

Latimer-Hearn said how, as a woman of color and the child of a single parent, she had a different path to playing at Northwestern from her peers. She learned to kick a soccer ball on a blacktop instead of a field. The way she wielded the ball raised eyebrows when she played on the NU soccer team.

The panel closed with a question from a 15-year-old girl in the audience who asked about how to overcome racism and sexism on athletic teams and in workplaces. Latimer-Hearn encouraged her to ask questions and to hold others accountable, and Voigt told her to remain authentic and remember her sense of self.

“I want to make sure you know that you’re not alone,” Cunningham added as a closing statement.

Thumbnail courtesy of Arden Anderson / North by Northwestern.