Men’s Basketball Embraces Diversity and Inclusion

Elijah Williams ’23, Max Pernetti ’24, and Jake Bertolini-Felice ’24 take action to create an inclusive environment on the court and in the community

GETTYSBURG, Pa. – In conjunction with the NCAA Social Media Diversity and Inclusion campaign that runs from Oct. 27-29, sophomore Elijah Williams and freshmen Max Pernetti and Jake Bertolini-Felice from the Gettysburg College men’s basketball team share personal experiences and thoughts on diversity and inclusion.

Today marks the first day of the NCAA Social Media Diversity and Inclusion campaign, and the theme is “My Story Matters,” which explores student-athletes’ identities, perspectives, and experiences.

Behind Head Coach B.J. Dunne, the men’s basketball program has emerged as a leader in the Gettysburg athletic department in issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. The team has engaged in several educational programs already with more on the horizon. Williams, Pernetti, and Bertolini-Felice are also the team’s representatives on athletic department’s committee dedicated to this topic, BURG ALLIES.

The three student-athletes broke down their reasoning for joining the campaign and their passion for taking action to make Gettysburg and the surrounding community more inclusive.

Why did you join the DEI Committee?

Elijah Williams ’23 
Washington, D.C./Sidwell Friends School
Health Sciences Major
“I had a lot of talks with Coach Dunne and we got to a point where we brought up some stuff that’s happened in the past with our team. We then talked about it in the meeting and ever since then, I’ve seen the fire lit under Coach Dunne. He wants to push more and more to close those gaps in those inequities and to raise awareness for what is going on. When coach asked me if I wanted to be a part of the Student Advisory Board for the DEI, it was kind of a no-brainer because I realized the effect and the power that my voice had on my teammates and my coaches. I wanted to be able to share that with the campus in some way to make a positive change.” 

Max Pernetti ’24 
Oakland, N.J./Ramapo High School
Business Major
“When Coach Dunne and Coach [Barb] Jordan presented to us about DEI it was just a great way to get involved. Being a freshman here, I want to try to get involved with as many things as I possibly can, especially for all the right reasons. Somewhere around the time when George Floyd was killed, Coach Dunne held a team meeting that Monday and we talked for probably two hours just about how frustrating it is to see all the racial injustice in this country and how racism is a huge issue in the United States. We’ve been trying to do everything we can to take action against these racist actions, social injustice, police brutality, all of that. So joining the DEI was exciting for me because we have a great mission, hopefully working out some programming that we could get involved with and get out to athletes and help student-athletes figure out a way to be anti-racists.” 

Jake Bertolini-Felice ’24 
Cary, N.C./Trinity Academy of Raleigh
Political Science Major
“I remember having a conversation with Elijah over the summer around the time that the protests in Minnesota were happening following George Floyd’s killing. He was voicing some concerns that he had about the overall sense of awareness that we have towards some of the race or injustice that goes on in our country, specifically in the Gettysburg community and on campus. For me, racial equality, equity, racial justice, reform…are all things that are very important to me. I’m very passionate about it. Being able to be involved in something that was promoting those ideas on campus in my new community for the next four years was something that I was very interested in doing.”

What actions did you take over the summer?

“I went out to protest because people in my family, people that I know, have been protesting for the same things before I was even born. I feel like I have to continue on that legacy and keep fighting for what they weren’t able to accomplish. I think it was important because on the first day that I was there, I saw all sides of it. It was pretty violent, hostile, and peaceful. Over the next few days, I saw it kind of dissipating, calm down, and that was a good thing, the environment was a lot less hostile. It was a lot more positive and let’s move forward, and so that was powerful to me. Just seeing that happen in front of my eyes over a couple of weeks was why I did it.” 

“I live in a very small town in New Jersey and there were not many protests near me. I decided to, instead of attending a protest, do everything I could to directly fund or petition to things that go directly to the front lines in the process. Things like milk for protesters when tear gas gets on their eyes – milk helps stop the burning; petitions of stopping police from being allowed to use rubber bullets; and funding for organizations that are heading protests.”

“I attended a handful of protests, as there were some big ones in Raleigh. I went to a couple of smaller ones that were in the town surrounding Raleigh and I had the privilege of speaking at one. What I spoke about is why I am so passionate about this and why I needed to go out to protest and seek change. I also identified that white people in the United States love to be involved in African-American culture. Whether it is the music we listen to, the athletes that we watch on television, and the clothing brands that we wear. We love to be fully immersed in black culture when it is convenient, but we need to start taking a stand for black people and being involved in black culture when it is inconvenient too.” 

How have you been a leader for DEI on the team?

“[We] represent the DEI on our team, so we carry some of that weight, but I think when it boils down to the actual DEI, we are pretty prominent in that we’re coming up with ideas. Jake is very well-versed in voting. He’s our voting representative so he has all this information on how to choose what candidate and what candidate aligns with your views. Our generation is new to voting, so Jake has done his research and wants to spread awareness about that.

“My family offered to student-athletes, coaches, and professors at Gettysburg to join in the three-week educational program called “A Long Talk About the Uncomfortable Truth”, and several did. In one section of programming, we learned how to look within ourselves, figure out a plan for action, and then ask how we are going to uphold these things on campus.”

What have you done to understand all the issues and be informed voters on Nov. 3?

“We had a Zoom meeting with one of Towson’s women’s basketball assistants this past week about the importance of voting and then we did a scouting report for voting. It was kind of a cool way of how we did it, in terms of athletics and the way of getting a plan to vote. Zach, the assistant from Towson, did a great job explaining how one of the biggest things about this election is the 18-to-24 year old age range and how it is really like choosing our future. In the past elections, that age group has been the lowest turnout for voting. I think that for the voting side that Jake has been leading, it is really important that people our age get out and vote this year because we’re the ones that are choosing our future.”

“I feel like the team has responded well to the information I have sent out. Coach Dunne a couple of weeks ago…wanted to make sure that everybody was registered and pretty much the whole team was at that point. The few that weren’t, registered that day. That goes to show the willingness of the people on the team to put words to action. I have been trying to send out some good information a couple of times a week to my teammates. I think a lot of guys kind of had switches flipped over the last year to four months as a lot of Americans have. People are taking this stuff more seriously than they have. I feel like people are valuing the information that I’m sending out and are using it.” 

What’s the future hold for you, the basketball team, and the rest of the community?

“I think that is important for the group of us, you can put this in an athletic perspective too; you want to move together as a team and hear everybody’s opinion on a great way to get programming. When we get that programming, we are going to be able to use that with everybody, and everybody hopefully will get good use out of that. Take part in it, listen, hear what we have to say, hear our mission, and learn a lot from that.” 

“My goal is to make the spaces more comfortable for everyone on campus. I want people to understand why they shouldn’t do these things and why they shouldn’t say these things. We still don’t have a concrete plan about how we’re going to go about that. We have a few things that we’ve been talking about, but nothing on a widespread scale. I think the one thing that we can do, at least, when we are in person or at school is lead by example, and also be those figureheads on campus that can encourage anti-racist actions. Part of our statement was moving from non-racist thoughts to anti-racist actions. I’m not sure if that was for DEI or if that was just something that I might have talked about Coach Dunne with, but I think that that’s the most important part, and that’s where we want to get too.”
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This story was originally posted on the Gettysburg College Website.

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