By Sophie Foster
Since assuming the position of Associate Provost of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Senior Equity Officer on July 1, Dr. Alisha Knight’s efforts to engage the Washington College community in dialogue surrounding inclusivity on campus are ongoing.
These endeavors continued with a DEI in athletics forum held in Hynson Lounge on Thursday, Sept. 29. The forum, the second in a series of events of its kind to discuss the strategic diversity plan, was open to all members of the campus community, according to an email sent by Dr. Knight on Sept. 22.
Several members of the athletics faculty, athletic teams, College administration, and Student Government Association were in attendance. Many of those present came to share perspectives and personal experiences related to DEI in the athletic departments, raise suggestions and propositions for potential alterations that could be made to the department’s DEI approaches, or listen to the conversations being held to better understand what policies may be necessary going forward.
According to Dr. Knight, this forum in particular was planned with the intent to begin the process of identifying specific actions in the athletic department in need of being taken and determining the offices responsible for them.
“Inclusive excellence is the recognition that diversity and educational excellence are intertwined,” Dr. Knight said. “Inclusive excellence is achieved when diversity, broadly defined, exists at the highest level of importance at the College and when diversity is foundational to the College’s mission.”
According to Dr. Knight, moving forward with this effort is largely reliant on the community having “difficult, candid conversations.”
The SGA will be playing a role in facilitating said conversations, according to SGA Vice President senior Jonah Nicholson. Currently, the SGA is working to build relationships with administrators to “prioritize the students, hold our administrative offices accountable for their words, and ensure that students are not only heard but that we are making decisions with them.”
According to SGA Secretary of Diversity and Inclusion junior Hailey Sutton, her position typically includes working with athletic teams to discuss DEI training. Sutton hopes that any current training gives student athletes an opportunity to learn and change their mindsets.
“Everyone can change and grow; it starts with one person leading the path,” Sutton said.
The SGA is also collaborating with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee through the efforts of Sutton, Nicholson, and SGA Secretary of Student Life junior Kamden Richardson “to involve student athletes in one another’s DEI work,” according to Nicholson.
WACSAAC isn’t the only student-centered athletics group taking steps to advocate for further inclusivity in athletic spaces on campus. According to President of LGBTQ+ Student Athletes junior Emily Arnold, “LGBTQ+ Athletes was created with the goal of creating a safe, comfortable, supporting, and reliable environment for the student athletes that consider themselves to be part of the LGBTQ+ community…[and] to try [to] eradicate the feeling of isolation.”
“WC needs to continue to actively engage and encourage people to speak up and out for what they…want to see [changed or continued on campus] that will provide a safe and inclusive environment,” Arnold said. “Everyone is different and will require different equitable environments, but to help achieve this, people need to say what they want or need.”
Richardson, who is also a member of the women’s rowing team, agreed.
“Athletics not only needs to keep making progress, that progress has to be seen and felt from the entire campus, not just within athletics,” Richardson said.
According to Richardson, the women’s rowing team exemplifies this progress thanks to their own diversity committee made up of teammates, which organizes monthly trainings or talks to continue necessary conversations.
The key takeaway from the forum and this enduring dialogue, according to Nicholson, was that “there are student leaders within various teams that are addressing DEI. Highlighting and collaborating with these students [and] teams will help with spreading efforts across campus to create an inclusive environment.”
Nicholson identified two key methods through which this inclusivity might be achieved: the visibility and transparency of policies, and the devoted welcoming of athletes of color, LGBTQ+ athletes, and other marginalized groups in the Athletics Department.
According to Nicholson, the accountability systems of both the WC Athletics Department and the National Collegiate Athletics Association sometimes lack comprehensibility, and making a concerted effort to guide the community toward understanding these systems will “build confidence and trust as well as show that WC values and principles are present in every area of campus.”
“Addressing DEI is more than just increasing the racial diversity in your team. It’s also about making sure that students of intersectional identities feel welcome within their own teams and beyond the Athletics Department,” Nicholson said. “Ensuring that they know they are protected, that their culture adds value to the team, and that their individuality is a beacon of inspiration is of the utmost importance.”
As the year progresses, Dr. Knight will continue to present opportunities to the campus community for their perspectives on DEI at WC to be heard. The next forum, which will be centered around the Natural Sciences and Mathematics Division, is expected to be held on Monday, Oct. 10.
Elm Archive Photo
Photo Caption: Dr. Knight hosts Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Athletics Forum in Hynson Lounge.