American University’s mens and women's swim team has a total of 47 players on their Division I roster including: Langston Carter (langstoncarter). Carter, a senior studying public relations with a minor in legal studies, has been a part of the team for all four years of his collegiate career and has been the only Black swimmer on American University’s swim team. Carter fell in love with swimming at the age of 6 with fond memories of swimming with neighborhood friends. As he got older he was approached by a swim coach who saw his potential, and the rest is history. To the coaches advice, he joined a club swim team his freshman year of high school, an official kickstarter for his swim career. He would go on to swim on his club team throughout high school, with little thought about college swim. On the subject he stated, “when I was swimming in high school I didn’t think that I could swim at a D1 school.” Despite his doubts, he was able to join AU’s swim team which has been an unforgettable experience.
Swimming has historically been a restricted sport for white and affluent athletes, and Carter was confronted with this fact during his time on the AU team. A large benefit of being on a collegiate team is the camaraderie and friendships built with your teammates. Carter spoke to the rigorous practice schedule the swimmers followed highlighting the extensive time spent with his team. ”We have two hours practice per day, three days a week.” This not including time spent on weekends going to meets, and other sports related events. The majority of his time was spent with his team to which he felt that he didn’t make many connections with. Being the only Black swimmer on the team, he felt there was a disconnect between him and his teammates that he was never able to bridge. He stated, “There was a huge barrier between me and my teammates because none of them could really relate to where I was coming from.” To that effect he also felt that not many of them tried connecting with him.
Carter routinely knelt during the National Anthem portion of his swim meets. Kneeling during the National Anthem is a common act of rebellion against the prejudice systems of our country, especially at the expense of the Black community. None of his teammates joined him in these efforts until he unfortunately suffered the loss of a family member at the hands of police brutality in 2020. “I have taken a knee at every single swim meet and not a single one of my teammates joined me until my father’s cousin was killed by the police”. After that, a maximum of a third of the team participated. As time went on, many stopped doing so, and to date only two team members routinely join Carter in his silent protest. To his feelings on the matter he said, “I was hurt, that is the best illustration of how little support I received from my teammates”.
Carter’s time on the AU swim team speaks to the reality of many Black collegiate athletes participating in predominantly white sports. Many of their teammates come from glaringly different backgrounds, and have oftentimes had little experience interacting with Black people creating a large disconnect. Unfortunately, this disconnect is at the detriment of Black athletes who feel isolated and misunderstood in an environment in which they are meant to thrive in. Despite Carter’s experiences, he still recognizes and appreciates the members of his team that he was able to bond with, even if only a few. He also had a large support system from his hometown friends who helped to fill the gap felt from his AU teammates. “My friend group at home was a huge support system,” he said. His resilience speaks to his love for the sport, and he feels that the team has much potential to improve. There has been a change in leadership, with a new coach this season, so the dynamics of the team are likely to change as well as the support for Black athletes.
Carter’s experience is one of many. Athletic departments need to be more intentional in how they support Black athletes at PWI’s and push more conversations surrounding inclusivity. A student should never feel abandoned and unsupported on a team meant to uplift them. More must be done to ensure the success of these students not just academically, but emotionally and mentally as well. This involves the intentional hiring of Black staff to work within these spaces and act as liaison for these athletes. Someone who is able to understand the uniqueness of their experiences and background in a way that seems to be lacking currently. Making an individual feel heard can truly make all the difference in that person's life, it makes them feel empowered. College is a pivotal time in the lives of young adults and having a support system is more important than ever during these years.
Langston Carter’s involvement with the AU swim team came with its ups and downs, but despite its challenges the sport has given him lifelong connections and lessons he will have for many years to come. As he reflects on his past four years at AU a fond memory is their George Mason patriot invite meet, from his freshman year. He states, “It was the first meet our team had won and it was amazing to be a part of it”. While his swim experience may not have been what he had hoped for, there were still great moments he will cherise. Carter is graduating this May and hopes to go into grad school to study journalism. With him, he takes his legacy of being AU’s only Black swimmer in the past four years, and has paved the way for more to follow in his footsteps.