After the events of George Floyd in 2020, junior student athletes Mikala Eacrett and Myles Talley were inspired to co-found the Every Heart is Sacred initiative on campus.
This group aims to educate, support and create unity for the athletes of Sacred Heart University and establish a place where students of different ideologies and backgrounds can share thoughts, opinions and experiences they have faced in their lives.
“We talked about how there were no social justice groups at SHU that we knew of,” said Eacrett. “We decided that, since we are given a platform as student athletes, we should do our best to bring people together to represent and celebrate all diverse groups.”
Starting this initiative has influenced how student athletes use their platforms, especially on social media.
“When it comes to using our platforms, the power of the share button is very important,” said Talley. “I follow accounts and reshare posts about topics like mental health and Black Lives Matter to educate my family and friends and spread awareness.”
Many teams have been supportive of the program thus far. The SHU women’s basketball team wore Every Heart is Sacred t-shirts during warmups before their games to show their support throughout the season.
“Since the pandemic, it has been hard to get the program running and we have not had the turn out we had hoped for,” said Eacrett. “Going forward, our goal is to have representatives from each athletic team and to get the whole athletic department on board.”
This program has gained the recognition of Athletic Director Judy Ann Riccio. She is the school’s first female athletic director and the 57th woman to lead a Division I athletic program currently out of 357 DI schools.
“I am so proud of how our student athletes responded to the social issues that were arising in our country, especially during a pandemic,” said Riccio. “Our Sacred Heart student athletes have a history of advocating for what they believe in and wanting to lead change within our community.”
Riccio has seen the creation of DEI working groups for staff to connect on topics such as LGBTQ+, race, work-life balance, on-boarding and hiring practices. On campus, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) DEI week is also honored with a student athlete identity event, which educates and highlights all the unique identities outside of sport.
“I think it is important to speak up and recognize that there is more to us than just the sports we play,” said Talley. “Underneath this stigma, I am also a student, brother, son and friend.”
Every Heart is Sacred strives to create a safe and inclusive space where student athletes can have a voice and listen to one another.
“Our favorite saying is ‘be comfortable with the uncomfortable,’” said Eacrett. “I think it is important to have those difficult conversations on hot button issues, even when people do not agree with each other so that we can continue to learn from one another and collectively grow.”