Occidental has a queen on campus. Professor Myralyn Nartey was only 15 years old when she joined the Ghanaian women’s national soccer team, or as they are commonly known, The Black Queens. She was with the Ghanaian Black Queens in the 2002 FIFA African Cup of Nations as well as the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup and has since taken her experiences from the soccer pitch to the classroom.
After pursuing multiple degrees in the sciences at Columbia University and UCLA, Nartey became an adjunct professor at Occidental in 2014. She currently teaches a four unit course, Women’s Sports Empowerment. According to its course description, the class “explores the impact of sports participation on female experiences, specifically considering multilevel psychological and sociocultural women’s empowerment measures, such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, and solidarity.”
Nartey envisioned a class that would consider women’s sports through an academic lens that was inspired by her own experiences as a professional soccer player. With assistance from two different academic departments — Kinesiology and UEPI — as well as the Occidental athletic department, Nartey has been able to pursue this vision and foster an environment for discussion, discourse and empowerment.
“We’re exploring the notion that ‘athlete’ can be an identity,” Nartey said. “Sometimes [it can be] a privileged identity or an identity that makes you more vulnerable and highlights inequality.”
Anna Yung (junior), a middle blocker on the Occidental women’s volleyball team and a student of Nartey’s this semester, has appreciated how the class has created a space to discuss the realities that women face in the sporting world.
“I think it’s important for young female athletes like myself to take this class in order to truly understand where the empowerment from playing sports emerges from,” Yung said via email. “My personal experience as a woman has been filled with self-efficacy/esteem issues that stem from not feeling adequate enough to meet the standards that society has set.”
Eva Townsend (junior), a captain on the women’s cross country team, is also taking the class. Townsend said she feels the class has exhibited how sports can be used to develop confidence and character. In addition, Nartey’s distinct background has really stuck out to Townsend.
“The fact that she is so cultured and she’s had so many different types of experiences really brings a unique aspect to the class,” Townsend said. “She’s really able to connect on a more personal level with all the topics we cover.”
Furthermore, Nartey’s background in international competition allows her to communicate broad concepts in very personalized terms.
“Because Professor Nartey played soccer in Africa, she brings an extremely interesting perspective on women’s issues overseas especially on a continent where women are not recognized as often or at all for their accomplishments,” Yung said via email.
The muscle gap between male and female athletes is one of the major themes of the class. The idea is that it is important to recognize differences but not compare two vastly different styles of athletes.
Although in many cases female athletes are not recognized for their accomplishments, Nartey was quick to point out examples of how sports can elevate women. In one instance Nartey expressed how, although there is a traditional patriarchal society in Africa, the women’s teams attract a lot of fans and are extraordinarily popular.
As Nartey aptly explains, “men love soccer more than they hate women.”
Nartey has lined up a handful of guest speakers who will be sharing and discussing their different experiences in the world of sports during the latter half of this semester. Some of these speakers include Charmelle Green, a former All-American softball player and current associate athletic director at Penn State University, as well as Angela Hucles, a retired U.S. women’s national team soccer player and Olympian who currently serves as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation.
These women represent a small handful of strong and female leadership in the world of women sports. Nartey expressed the need for more women like these to be heard due to the scarcity of empowered women around the sporting world. In a class designed to enable female athletes in a primarily male dominated institution, Nartey hopes to provide a younger generation with knowledge and confidence.