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A recurring series on WGLT's Sound Ideas about the central Illinois athletes who do incredible things, even after the game is over.

Beyond Sports: IWU’s Colleen Palczynski seeks to help others through racial and social justice causes

Colleen Palczynksi throwing
Nick Helten
Illinois Wesleyan University
Colleen Palczynksi set an IWU single-season record with 15 home runs in 2021.

An Illinois Wesleyan University softball player says she missed out on an entire season and two opportunities to study abroad because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In this edition of Beyond Sports, Colleen Palczynski said she focused her time instead on racial and social justice issues here at home. Palczynski agreed to serve on the IWU athletic department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Committee, a group of student-athletes, coaches and administrators that came together after the murder of George Floyd and calls from some students that IWU hadn't done enough to create a welcoming environment for people from underrepresented groups.

“I wanted to take it because I didn’t even have the knowledge, I just had the ‘want’ to do more on campus and learn more. I felt like I had the ability to do this when I joined the committee,” Palczynski said.

Palczynski said the group hosts regular webinars and guest speakers on diversity issues. She said she also participates in a book club that one of her coaches set up to better understand diversity issues.

“Continuing to do that is where we are going right now and what we have been doing just to create a dialogue and hold an expectation of what Illinois Wesleyan should be,” Palczynski said.

Social justice

Palczynski, a double major in sociology and Spanish, has also spent volunteering with the Immigration Project, using her Spanish-speaking skills to help clients get pandemic relief to stay in their homes.

“Over this experience I learned just to be grateful for what I have and how I can use my set of abilities and qualities and skills to help others,” she said.

Palczynski has used her mission to serve through her role at president of IWU’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) this year. The group helps to arrange student-athlete volunteer projects through charities including Special Olympics and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. SAAC also serves as an advocacy group for student-athletes.

Pandemic plans

Palczynski said she was disappointed that the pandemic forced her planned study abroad trips to Argentina to be cancelled.

“0-for-2, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe I was meant to be here for the two falls and that’s OK with me,” she reflected.

Palczynksi also missed out on nearly the entire 2020 softball season because of COVID. She made up for that by setting a new school single-season record with 15 home runs in 2021. But Palczynski isn’t thinking about personal goals as she prepares for her final season on the diamond in a Titan uniform.

“My goals for this season are just to give every game my all and just enjoy everything,” she said. “Especially after losing my sophomore season I realized there are no guarantees in any of this.”

Palczynski said when she graduates from IWU in the spring, she's considering graduate school or law school. She said either way, she wants to work for a non-profit and help others.

“My goal is to impact those around me in whatever way I can,” Palczynski said.

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