Updated: May 22, 2021
A Response to Racism and Sexism Reported by Referees
The recommendations put forth by a collaboration of WFencing members and community advocates are what is believed to be necessary steps towards advancing racial and gender equity within USA Fencing. The category of offenses described are by no means novel in our organization. It's time we take meaningful steps towards addressing racial and gender discrimination by proactively protecting those impacted.
Through the structural changes proposed below, we hope to educate members, hold accountable those who harass and disadvantage through personal bias, level the playing field of opportunity through formalized processes and development training, and provide support for those affected. Ultimately, we hope the process of writing this letter is a collaborative start to evolving USA Fencing into an organization that is reflective of our membership's values. Thank you fencing community and to Eva Jellison who took the time to write this update on our sport’s status.
-- Nzingha Prescod
WFencing’s Report Card made clear that gender equity is a significant concern in every corner of the United States fencing community. Since the release of the report card, WFencing has also been made aware of particular instances of virulent sexism and racism experienced by referees in the fencing community.
Sexism, racism, and other oppressions are barriers to the full inclusion of all women, equity among the genders, and diversity in positions of power in the fencing community. But sexist, racist, feminist, and antiracist are
"like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone [or some organization] is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. These are not permanent tattoos. No one becomes racist or antiracist[, sexist or feminist]. We can only strive to be one or another."
Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist, New York, One World (2019)
Thus, the specific reports of sexism and racism have further compelled WFencing to strive toward antiracism and feminism through acting, and doing so in partnership across the organizations that contribute to fencing in the United States. WFencing has identified organizations with whom we can partner to affect lasting structural and organizational change needed in the community, and come up with some specific solutions that could be implemented to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion among referees. Although diversity, equity, and inclusion among other key groups (e.g., coaches) is also important, WFencing is starting with referees first based on the expressed need in the cadre of referees for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Referees also play an incredibly significant role not only as needed quality arbiters in fencing but as role models for fencers. Referees also often wear many hats in the community, and so engaging referees at this time will hopefully have a broad and meaningful impact.
WFencing has been in the process of reaching out to USA Fencing, NCAA, USFCA NIWFA, the Referee Commission, and the USA Fencing Board. We have Board members or allies in many of these organizations and are excited about what all of us can do together to make our refereeing cadres diverse and representative of the athletes they serve. We are hoping that each of these organizations can be partners in changing formal and informal policies and the culture of the fencing community.
Based on many discussions, some ideas specific to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the ranks of professional referees, WFencing is recommending these suggestions:
A. Referee selection and rating promotion could be more formalized for both USA Fencing and NCAA, which promotes transparency and fairness. There are existing models for selection of referees that could be instructive (e.g., USA Tennis).
B. Referee training could include a yearly diversity, equity, and inclusion component.
C. USA Fencing could create a program to recruit, encourage, and mentor referees from historically marginalized populations.
D. USA Fencing, the Referee Commission, and NCAA could revamp/ craft a grievance process for referees, with particular sensitivity to the unique challenges that women, people of color, and other marginalized people face in the fencing community. Meaningful accountability must take into account the damage to the entire community when a referee from a historically underrepresented background is harmed -- strain on that member and the message sent to those of the same background. There are models for this in the sports world that may be easily applied to fencing.
E. Amending the USA Fencing Bylaws relating to the Referee’s Commission:
* In Purpose, adding “actively developing and increasing representation of under-represented groups in the referee population and leadership & decision-making positions of the Referees’ Commission” to the list of the Referees’ Commission’s responsibilities.
* In Composition, (1) adding DEIB representatives to the Referee’s Commission leadership, and (2) adding a member of the DEIB subcommittee to the collection of those who elect the Chair and Vice-Chairs of the Referees’ Commission.
Thank you for reading. We look forward to more engaged dialogue with actions working towards solutions to better all of our fencing community.
Note -- As WFencing prepared these recommendations, USA Fencing announced that “the USA Fencing Referees Commission has voted to create a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Task Force. The purpose of this task force is to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are incorporated into the core functions of the RC.” They are seeking individuals to participate in the Task Force and are asking for statements of interest to be submitted by June 30, 2021. Find out more at the announcement page here. We commend the Referees Commission for their work -- and encourage our members and supporters to apply!