Senior Courtney Place looks back on the past year with awe -- a year that began with a mere text to her best friend Izzy Sommers:
“Izzy, I have an idea and I want to change the world with it.”
“Let’s hear it,” Sommers responded.
“Later,” Place typed. “Too long to text.”
In just 12 months, SEE US -- Place’s movement advocating for fair treatment and representation of women’s sports -- evolved from a text to a campus buzzword, a nationally recognized organization and a source of inspiration for young female athletes. SEE US exceeded 1,800 followers across all social media platforms and raised over 1,300 dollars for the Women’s Sports Foundation.
“I’ve been super overwhelmed with the support,” Place said. “I’m just grateful for everybody who’s been a part of the movement.”
With the support, SEE US launched several projects over the past year, including drives for athletic clothes and feminine hygiene products, PR events, volunteer work in community races and an “I SEE” campaign giving male athletes a platform to support the movement.
“Hashtag SEE US doesn’t really involve [male athletes],” Place said. “So I came up for a way for them to be able to say [aloud or on social media] that they support what the movement is for.”
Standing out among SEE US’s projects was a halftime event at an Augustana women’s basketball game in November, garnering media attention from a local Sioux Falls station.
“KELOLAND showed up, which was crazy,” Place said. “I was sweating a lot and was super nervous.”
Organized by Augustana’s PRSSA (Public Relations Student Society of America), the halftime event brought former and current female athletes to the court, later giving them free t shirts and opportunities to connect with one another.
“There were a few women who I met, and they were just telling me how much they appreciated what I was doing,” Place said. “I just remember feeling really emotional, just knowing that what I was doing was important and relevant.”
The mid-game event held special importance for Hana Metoxen, Augustana basketball player and member of SEE US.
“[The presentation] was during our halftime talk, so I didn’t actually get to go out there, but it was pretty cool,” Metoxen said. “Our support from women’s teams is definitely growing … we’re really trying to rally and support each other.”
When Annika Teske made her halftime appearance that night, all of her tennis teammates attended the game.
“We don’t have a very big squad, but all of them showed up,” Teske said. “It was so great to show them what we’re doing and get a few more supporters.”
Yet among SEE US’s endeavors, the most meaningful project for Place occurred in a trip to Heron Lake-Okabena High School, Place’s alma mater.
“I was told by multiple people that the girls there were being kind of bullied for supporting the movement,” Place said. “They would put up signs in the hallway, and boys would tear them down and rip them apart.”
Further, the athletes requested to wear shorts, rather than traditional, tight-fitting volleyball spandex, in order to feel more comfortable during games. Moved by the news, Place wanted to give back.
Her solution? Gather a handful of SEE US teammates to lead a free volleyball camp for the Heron Lake-Okabena girls, followed by a heart-to-heart about the deeper issues they faced. The talk concluded with the distribution of wristbands and exchange of contact information, teaching the high schoolers a valuable lesson: “they’re not alone.”
Unfortunately, not all reactions to the movement have been positive.
Since the birth of SEE US, Place expected mixed reactions from students. However, as the movement gained notoriety -- especially on Augustana’s campus -- Place received backlash and under-the-breath comments that were sometimes hard to shake.
“It really makes you question yourself and whether what you’re doing is actually doing anything, like if it’s worth all the effort,” Place said.
Through rough patches, Place received encouragement from friends and family, particularly cherishing words of wisdom from her sister: for every negative comment, there will be at least five positive comments.
And for Place, bettering just one person is reason enough to continue.
“If you really are passionate about something and you change at least one person’s mind, or you make someone aware who wasn’t aware before, or an athlete tells you that what you’re doing is making them feel better about themselves, it’s worth it,” Place said.
Approaching her graduation from Augustana University, Place contemplated her future involvement with SEE US. For Place, deciding whether or not to continue her work is “the million dollar question”
“The plan right now is for me to keep running the social media stuff but for [the movement] to spread and for other people to volunteer,” Place said.
To hand the reins over to the people she originally inspired -- female athletes dispersed across the country -- Place empowered high schools and colleges to form SEE US teams, comprising groups of female athletes who meet at least once a month, sponsor events and raise money for the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Among the athletes already forming SEE US teams is Madie Kroehler, volleyball player at the University of St. Thomas.
“I’m super excited for what that could bring,” Kroehler said. “I’ve been talking with my teammates as well, and they are really excited to participate in [SEE US].”
And even after her final volleyball season at the University of Texas - San Antonio, Ashley Dominguez continues to advocate for female athletes through SEE US, spreading the movement outside of the Upper Midwest.
“I started taping my right wrist [for volleyball games] to cover up some bracelets that I wear, and [ever since Courtney started the movement] I started writing ‘SEE US’ on it,” Dominguez said.
Gaining momentum as time goes on, SEE US continues to spread its message of equality and empowerment across the country. But for Place and future SEE US ambassadors, the work is far from over.
Article by Alana Sesow