UNI Athletics third annual UNIty walk

UNI student-athletes wear “Together We Rise” t-shirts as a sign to represent their unity.


Oct.10, 2022 marked the Third Annual UNIty walk hosted by UNI Athletics. Athletes, community members, faculty and staff gathered to bring awareness to the daily racial injustices, mental health stigma, and general issues that athletes face. The theme of the UNity walk is to create a community that supports one another. The university’s athletics department will continue to have a week of unity, participating in community clean-ups and collaborating with other student organizations on campus. 

Three years ago, on Oct. 9, 2020, during the outburst of a global pandemic and the height of racial inequalities in America, a group of UNI student athletes wanted to come together and bring awareness to these issues. Andrea Greve-Coello, the associate director student athlete development and inclusion, stated, “In the fall of 2020, we had many student athletes impacted by the murder of George Floyd because it was in their hometown and right there in their community. There was a lot that happened that summer. Our student athletes were really in tune, too; they were following along and wanted to make sure that we came together as an athletic community to support one another, especially our student-athletes of color.”

In the heat of these worldwide events, UNI student athletes wanted to ensure that the community addressed issues in their backyard, primarily because of all the backlash athletes faced when discussing social issues in mainstream media. 2020 was the year to break the stigma of athletes having to be silent—their voice matters on and off the playing field.  Greve-Coello and the other staff in the athletics department heard the voices and pleas for change from the student athletes and wanted to help bring their vision to life. Greve-Coello and other staff asked student-athletes to devise a plan of action. “We asked them right away, ‘what do you want the message to be? How do you want people to feel as they leave this event? Do you want it to be a protest? Because if you do, we’ll support you. What do you want it to be?’ And so we challenged them with that.” When discussing how they wanted to go about addressing these uncomfortable issues, student athletes didn’t want to protest or boycott. They just wanted to use their platforms. They had to say something. 

“They didn’t want to protest, and they didn’t want just, you know, something, they wanted to use their platforms; they wanted to come together, especially because we were in the middle of a pandemic. Just being together was hard at that time. And so this is what they came up with. And we’ve been doing the same thing every year, giving space for student-athletes and people in attendance to talk,” Greve-Coello stated.  

It is imperative to continue the conversation of change. To speak up when issues are rising, significantly if people you know are affected by them. Director of Athletics David Harris stresses this message. Especially the importance of the UNity walk at UNI. “I think for us, it’s important because even when you make a decision, that’s important. So you have to take action to try to reinforce it. And so by doing this every year, it keeps it in the minds of our student-athletes and coaches, department and university, and hopefully the entire community, just the importance of coming together for a purpose, speaking up on behalf of others that need assistance and trying to unify as a community.”

The main message that Director Harris has is speaking up on others’ behalf. This message goes beyond the UNity walk into our everyday lives. Director Harris’s message is essential, especially after being named the first Black director for UNI athletics; the UNIty walks also affect him. 

“The big thing for me is the importance of us all speaking up on behalf of each other. There’s never been any problem that I believe has been solved when only the people impacted by the problem are speaking up. It takes allies and friends, and supporters to deal with any issue. And so we can’t just say that racism is an issue, sexism is an issue, or homophobia is an issue, and those impacted by it have to figure out how to solve it. It takes everybody pulling together to be able to do that. And so if you consider yourself to be a friend or an ally of someone who falls in a group that is discriminated against or feeling like they come under fire for being who they are, then it’s your responsibility to speak up on their behalf.”