Fightin’ Titans Lacks Diverse Representation
The moral of Remember the Titans is that people of all different backgrounds can come together on the field, but how about in the stands?
When attending any major T.C. Williams sporting event, one is met with a group of enthusiastic individuals adorned in facepaint, wearing larger-than-life costumes — the Fightin’ Titans. Despite their pep and school spirit, the Fightin’ Titans, a student-run organization, reflect a serious problem at one of Virginia’s most diverse schools. With 79 percent of the T.C. student population being non-white, visitors may be shocked to find that the student section seems to only represent a mere 21 percent of the student body, with most of the officers and members being white.
Has the student section always been this white? How do non-white students feel about the lack of diversity? And what can be done, if anything, to make T.C. students feel more included at sporting events?
A 2007 graduate said upon visiting T.C. that she could “sense the separation.” She said that when attending T.C., “[The student section] was very diverse. We were so hyped up…It didn’t matter what background you came from.”
As the demographics of Alexandria have changed over the years, the demographics of T.C. have changed with it. However, almost 50 years since T.C. Williams’ integration, the student section remains an evident example of the lack of integration.
“When I go to games, I don’t want to sit over [with the student section] because I don’t want to feel like the odd person out…I don’t want to go there and look like a dummy and sit with everybody else, but I want to support my school,” said varsity cheerleader Kamryn Powell, a junior.
Powell also alluded to communication issues between the Fightin’ Titans and the greater student body. “They could announce that there is a ‘Fightin’ Titans’ club because I think not a lot of minority kids know… If they could announce the specific colors or themes, that would be great…” While the Fightin’ Titans run a Twitter account, announcing information on themes and events, students do not find this medium as effective as other methods.
Powell continued, “I’d be at all the games, but I’m not [attending the games] because I don’t know [the information].”
Sophomore Liandra Richards said, “I would love to join Fightin’ Titans, but I would be hesitant…I would not feel welcome or comfortable [sitting with them]. And I shouldn’t feel like that because this is a school that prides itself on diversity.”
When I go to games, I don’t want to sit over [with the student section] because I don’t want to feel like the odd person out…I don’t want to go there and look like a dummy and sit with everybody else, but I want to support my school
Junior Abdul Conteh, varsity football player, said, “[I] like to see more people of my skin color, black people, there [in the student section] to support us to get the ‘dub.’” Conteh is one of a few minority students who sit in the Fightin’ Titans section; he said that the lack of diversity gets “a little awkward.”
James L. Parker, the new T.C. Athletic Director, has acknowledged the problems students have expressed. “You have the regular student body; you have the Fightin’ Titans’ you have the cheerleaders. Really, the regular student body and the Fightin’ Titans are one in the same, there shouldn’t be any kind of difference per se… we’re all trying to cheer for our team, so we can all do it together. We don’t have to do it in separate silos…,”said Parker.
Parker has been working to help the Fightin’ Titans get more organized and be able to reach out to more of the T.C. student population. “We actually had a meeting with the Fightin’ Titans executive committee and some of the…football players or athletes who play other sports…Some of those kids [in the pep group] had never met [the athletes]…So everyone meeting, exchanging numbers, getting to know each other, was a good thing,” Parker said.
Senior Caroline Sloan, a member of Fightin’ Titans, said, “I have been sitting in the Fightin’ Titans student section since freshman year, and it has been one of my favorite parts of high school…Seeing the large group of students all dressed in a common theme is very exciting and boosts school spirit…”
Due to help from Parker and the football team, Sloan said, “I have noticed a difference in who is participating in themes and sitting with the Fightin’ Titans.”
Senior Sean Walsh, another member, said, “this year has been more diverse than ever…It seems almost all T.C. students at the game are in the student section…Both sides have joined together and created one of the best student sections in Northern Virginia” Walsh said. He believes previous classes did not advertise the sporting events and themes enough and believes Fightin’ Titans 2019 has solved this major issue.
Fightin’ Titans 2019 has also worked with the football team to recruit new officers of color to help get more students involved, including Damien Thompson and Rob Longerbeam.
Despite this, the student section still appears divided. Sophomore Nyla Fox said when attending a basketball game this season that “the white juniors and seniors stayed on one side, and basically everyone else was on the other side.”
Ultimately, there seems to be two very different perspectives to the Fightin’ Titans issue, with its members seeing improvements and non-members still sensing a divide. Something both groups can agree upon is that more can be done to resolve the lacking diversity.
The progress being made in including more diverse officers in the group is commendable, however the issues of the Fightin’ Titans do not just come down to skin color — it also comes down to cliques. Students do not feel represented by the Fightin’ Titans because the Fightin’ Titans only seem to represent a small percentage of the student body, a group of caucasian upperclassman who are mostly all friends.
The leaders of the Fightin’ Titans should cover all bases, including not only racially diverse officers, but socially diverse officers who associate with different groups. Leadership ultimately is what enacts change with the image leaders set forth. If most leaders appear to be of the same race or of the same friend group, inclusivity seems discouraged and therefore restricts the progress that has already been made.
A 1981 T.C. Williams graduate said, “We all sat together [at sporting events] and we all cheered together.”
The much-coveted T.C. student section can return to this image if the mindset of the entire student body–not just the pep group–shifts to be more inclusive…because, as Mr. Parker said, “We’re all Fightin’ Titans.”