Northwestern student-athletes attend Big Ten Women’s Leadership Summit


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Three Northwestern student-athletes attended the inaugural Big Ten Women’s Leadership Summit June 23-24.

Charlotte Varnes, Managing Editor

The opening night of the first-ever Big Ten Women’s Leadership Summit had it all: red carpets, mocktails with sports media personalities and athletes, catered dinner and remarks by Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren and ESPN’s Sarah Spain. 

From the names of the mocktails to the speeches, one common theme tied the evening together: Title IX’s 50th anniversary.

“The best quote I heard that night was, ‘Tonight is a celebration … but it’s also a recommitment moving forward,’” junior softball pitcher Sydney Supple said. “I just loved that and I felt like it set the tone.”

Supple was one of three Northwestern student-athlete attendees at the inaugural summit. Junior soccer midfielder Rowan Lapi and senior basketball guard/forward Sydney Wood joined Supple at the event. 

A number of NU alumni attended and spoke at the event as well, including Big Ten Network broadcasters Meghan McKeown and Lisa Byington and Katrina Adams, former CEO of the United States Tennis Association.

The event, held June 23-24 at Big Ten headquarters in Rosemont, Illinois, coincided with the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX. The landmark legislation, passed on June 23, 1972, banned gender-based discrimination in federally funded programs — including athletics. Title IX dramatically changed the landscape of women’s sports in the United States and created countless new athletic opportunities for women.

More than 75 student-athletes, coaches and administrators attended the event, engaging with a variety of leaders within sports media, college athletics and professional sports.

Prior to the opening remarks, attendees enjoyed mocktails and talked with one another. On June 24, the schedule mostly consisted of speakers and panels, but there were scheduled networking breaks between each event where attendees could introduce themselves to speakers and others. 

Wood said she enjoyed talking with other Big Ten basketball players and learning more about their lives off the court. 

“Throughout the couple of days, I got to learn more about people who I’ve never had the opportunity to have a regular conversation with,” Wood said. “I’ve always been competing against them and (I would) maybe talk to them on the court, but it’s a completely different context.”

The speaker sessions on June 24 allowed attendees to hear from leading women in the sports world. Panelists discussed topics ranging from personal experiences with Title IX to forging paths in male-dominated industries. 

Lapi said she was most excited to hear from “soccer icon” Tierna Davidson, a professional soccer player for the Chicago Red Stars and the youngest member of the U.S. Women’s National Team in the 2019 FIFA World Cup. Lapi said she had a “fangirl moment” hearing Davidson speak about her experiences. 

Supple, who is interested in a career in sports media, said she appreciated the opportunity to hear from and meet women in the sports journalism world.

“To hear their stories and every trial they went through so they were able to be the first so women like me and others can be the next was so unbelievably inspiring and empowering,” Supple said. “I left wanting to run headfirst into the industry and work so hard.”

Hearing women speak about their experiences with Title IX was meaningful for Wood, she said. Prior to the event, she said she didn’t have a strong understanding of the legislation and what it meant for women in sports. Wood said she enjoyed hearing panelists’ perspectives on how Title IX changed the landscape of women’s sports.

Lapi said she also didn’t fully understand the scope of Title IX before attending the summit, and left with a greater desire to educate herself about the challenges women face in sports.

“I was surprised with how much I didn’t know about it and how much I took for granted,” Lapi said. “We’re blessed to have so many more opportunities than my grandma or mom had. Getting to dig deeper into those experiences and what Title IX means was a truly awesome experience.” 

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Twitter: @charvarnes11

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