We Stand Together: Olivia Galas Student-Athlete Uses Empathy, Action to Become a Better Advocate
For Olivia Galas, coming to Bellevue University expanded her network and opened her eyes to a wider world.
Growing up in a tight-knit family and community, the Gross Catholic High School graduate says she’s thankful for the opportunity to meet new people with differing experiences and ideas.
One friendship with a fellow student-athlete has sparked new conversations and convictions for 20-year-old Galas, a junior studying health and human performance.
“Elexis [Martinez] is a big role model for me, hearing her speak about racial equality and how change can happen,” Galas says. “She’s helped me so much.”
Amid the social unrest and calls for change across the country, Galas has been listening, learning and engaging in what she labels “little things” to become a better advocate.
This cultural moment has also inspired the Bellevue, Nebraska, native to inquire about her own family’s heritage, causing old stories to surface (including the genesis of her great-grandparents' romance).
What do you want people to know about you?
I’m born and raised in Bellevue. I grew up Catholic. I have a younger brother and an older sister. There are over 50 of us cousins on one side of my family. We’re big family people.
I’ve played volleyball all my life, currently for Bellevue University. I work for my family’s catering company, which my grandpa founded. My dad caters meals after our practices and before our home games. (Olivia’s favorite dish? Prime rib.)
Volleyball is my passion. I started playing when I was 7. I’m a setter. My position is a lot of fun. It’s the only time I actually like being in charge. That’s where I thrive. My family is supportive and loves coming to our games.
How do you identify in terms of your ethnicity? What does your heritage mean to you?
White. My family’s roots are from Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. I just learned that my great-grandpa and grandma lived 7 minutes away from each other in Poland but actually met in South Omaha.
If I’m being honest, up until recently I rarely thought about my heritage. But lately I’ve started talking to my parents about my ancestors. They’ve shared so many stories I’ve never heard before. We offer some Polish dishes at our catering company, so I’ve learned more about those. These stories have made our history more meaningful.
What are you doing to advocate for racial equality?
I’m learning from the people in my life, talking to family and friends. I’ve signed petitions. I retweet. I share on Facebook. I know it’s little, but everything helps. Educating my family members was a big step for me, teaching them about everything so they can understand and support the movement.
I attended the protests. I was at home that night; it didn’t feel right in my chest knowing that I’m sitting here with all that’s going on in my hometown. There’s hopefully change happening, and there I was not doing anything. So I drove down to 72nd & Dodge alone. I had goosebumps the entire time. My eyes would water seeing people who are so passionate. When everyone was chanting, you could hear and feel the hurt in their voices. It was real, and after that experience everything changed for me. I’m more vocal now and more aware.
What would you recommend others do to get involved?
I encourage people to be open to learning and hearing others’ stories and experiences. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it. Racial tension and injustices are out in the open right now, so let’s not avoid the tough conversations. I believe talking to people and hearing their side would do a lot. Let’s use our voices and privileges for good. Let’s help each other out and try to make the world a better place.
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope Omaha becomes less segregated. I envision a greater sense of community. There’s no reason for all this hate. When we speak up, I think it’s going to help change our country. I’m glad to play a part in this movement. Hopefully it leads to more love in the world.
This is the time to work and learn together. We are proud of all the ways that Bellevue University students, faculty and staff are using their voices, their time and their talents to serve the community and stand together against hate, injustice and oppression.