Howard University and Presbyterian College officials are investigating after a group yelled threats and slurs at the Howard women’s lacrosse team last week.
The team, composed all of people of color, was making its way inside Presbyterian’s Bailey Memorial Stadium in Clinton, South Carolina, just before 3 p.m. Friday when the team members were verbally assaulted by what Howard’s coach described as a group of white boys tailgating behind a gate. Howard is a historically Black university in Washington, D.C.
“Our first steps onto the field, we were greeted with, ‘F--- Howard! You’re not welcome here!’ They said, ‘We don’t want you here!’ They told us to go home,” coach Karen Healy-Silcott said.
She said the group used several racial slurs and derogatory sexual terms and called out players by name.
“They shouted, ‘If it ain’t white, it ain’t right!’” Healy-Silcott said. “We were looking at each other, wondering if we were actually hearing this.”
Healy-Silcott said she and the team were in shock. They made their way into the locker room, and Healy-Silcott resolved to deal with the matter after the game. She said the teammates comforted one another and talked about lacrosse’s origins among Indigenous peoples as a healing tool.
“This has been an incredibly difficult experience for myself and the players,” Healy-Silcott said. “It’s not something they should have to face and not something they should ever have heard. It was a really terrible day. But they persevered and were able to play, and I’m really proud of the way we responded as a team.”
Howard and Delaware State University are the only two historically Black colleges or universities with NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse teams, according to USA Lacrosse Magazine.
Presbyterian College President Matthew vandenBerg called the incident “an abomination” in a statement Monday, adding that the “racist, misogynistic, and hateful behaviors exhibited by individuals on the day in question ... have no place anywhere in civilized society, let alone at PC.”
Presbyterian College Provost Kerry Pannell and Will Harris, the chairman of the school’s diversity and inclusion advisory council, apologized to the team in a statement Sunday and said any student found responsible would face consequences. Dana Simmons, a spokesperson for the college, said in an email that the school has hired independent counsel to investigate the incident.
A Howard spokesman told The Washington Post that the school is conducting interviews about the incident, and Howard Athletic Director Kery Davis said in a statement that he is “deeply troubled that some of our student-athletes were subjected to slurs and abusive language before the women’s lacrosse match on Friday vs. Presbyterian College.”
“Howard does not condone such disgraceful behavior in any form, and the use of harmful language such as this runs counter to the values of this institution, which celebrates respect, diversity, and inclusion on its campus,” he continued. “We appreciate Presbyterian College’s initial response, and demand a thorough investigation be launched. We condemn this deplorable behavior, and will continually support, defend, and protect our Bison.”
Healy-Silcott’s husband, Brian Silcott, a board member at USA Lacrosse, spoke out about the incident in a tweet, writing: “My wife had her first game as the Head Coach of @HowardU yesterday at Presbyterian @presbycollege They were greeted by a bunch of boys hurling obscene and threatening insults. This is the life of black female athletes. Wish I was there, thankfully my wife can take care of herself.”
Healy-Silcott said she contacted Howard’s administrators as soon as the game was over. She added that the response from the lacrosse community and the public has been “incredible,” with coaches and supporters reaching out to encourage the team.
“It sends a really powerful message to my players that they are seen and heard and nobody should have to experience what we experience,” Healy-Silcott said. “It’s important to remember that we have to keep talking about these things. That is one commitment I’ve gotten from people. Their response was they didn’t think this was still happening. So we have to make sure that the conversation never stops.”
Howard is one of several historically Black colleges that have received multiple bomb threats since January. The FBI said this month that it identified six “tech savvy” juveniles across the country as persons of interest who are suspected of making the threats.