When you think about college, is diversity, equity and inclusion important to you? Let’s dive a little deeper into the topic starting with a former student athlete’s experience.
I was talking to a former graduate and athlete of a major university, let’s call her Mika, who shared with me that, although she had a good college experience, it was not great. Mika wished she would have done more research about the characteristics that are important outside of the athletics program. She said she did not make the culture of the university as much of a priority as she should have.
Mika felt that, outside of her own team, she did not feel very culturally comfortable. The campus and community did not embrace her differences. She was treated poorly by professors, the community, and the campus at large. This was not a very pleasant college experience outside of athletics and probably hindered Mika’s ability to network and meet other people.
Had she had to do it all over again, and knowing what she now knows, Mika said she likely would not have chosen that same university. She would have chosen one with more of a cultural fit both inside and outside the sports program.
There is this thing called “bias.” In the dictionary, bias is defined as prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Everyone has biases. Some people are aware of their biases and some are not. Some bias can impact a person’s decisions or attitude towards another person. And, sometimes, people have biases toward those who are different than they are and, therefore, shy away from including them in the group or helping them to feel comfortable.
Have you ever wondered what kinds of biases you have?
If you are curious about your own biases, you can anonymously take a test and help researchers by choosing one of the following tests and see where you land. The Harvard University link shares many tests for you to check out. Since we are all influenced by many things, including movies, TV, social media, and classmates, you may be surprised at your results.
We all have prejudices and biases that affect our thoughts, and sometimes actions, toward others. Knowing what these biases are and understanding how they may affect our decisions and actions is important for teams to understand.
If we are open to the thoughts, values, needs, and cultures of other people, we are giving ourselves an opportunity to grow in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space.
Athletics is one place where people from all different walks of life, cultures, experiences, countries, races, beliefs, and ethnicities come together and work together in order to succeed. There is no better training than athletics to understand how tearing down walls, coming together for a common purpose, believing in each other, and working together bring major success and accomplishments to teams.
Teams have to work together, sacrifice for each other, share the credit, and support and encourage each other in order to achieve those accomplishments. And, in doing so, all individuals grow and get better, not just as athletes but also as people.
As you think about your college experience, what are you looking for as it relates to diversity (the presence of differences), equity (equal opportunity), and inclusion (involving everyone)? If you had to pick a spot on the continuum, where would you place yourself?
After taking some of the bias tests mentioned above, you might have new insights into what you truly want in a college experience.
There are many ways to research diversity, equality, and inclusion on college campuses. Here are some tips to help you research this topic.
Both the college and the athletic department have public mission statements. By reading them, you can begin to understand what the priorities are of both the campus at large and the athletic department.
Every college has multiple photos of leadership for the campus, the athletic department, and the college. Viewing photos from different areas around campus and student life can help you identify what the culture might look like. Do you see yourself represented in the photos?
Ask questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Does the university and athletic department honor these values? Do they match the cultural values and beliefs that you hold? Ask the President, athletic directors, coaches, players, professors, and students on campus. What does this university or college value? Do the coaches value diversity? Can the athletes on the team verify what the coaches say about diversity, equity, and inclusion? How do the student-athletes feel when they are out walking around campus or in the community?
You can gain so much knowledge through your social media channels just by following the college and the individuals who represent the college. The players, coaches, administrators, alumni, and many others are easy to find and follow if you do a little searching. Do they post about and support social issues that matter to you?
Do the facilities match between genders and sports, or is one favored over another? Does this institution seem to celebrate women’s sports the same way they do men’s sports? Do travel schedules look similar, or do the men get to travel to better tournaments and locations? What does the media attention look like? Are the meals, equipment, and gear of a similar quality? What opportunities do women get versus men?
When you browse the website or visit the campus, find out what clubs, support groups, and events are available on campus. Are you represented in these clubs or support groups? Does the college hold events that are in line with your beliefs?
What kind of crimes are committed on campus? Does this college have an issue with hate crimes or crimes against women? You can find this out by asking questions, but you can also Google the crime rate in a particular city or on a particular campus to get some information about it. Google the Clery Map (and Crime Log), which is required for each campus due to Title IX, and which identifies where a reportable incident has occurred.
Check to see if the college holds any diversity training for college students, athletes, coaches, and administrators? If the college takes diversity, equity, and inclusion seriously, then there should be programs for all personnel on campus.
Colleges and universities that hold these types of training programs allow student-athletes to gain an understanding and an appreciation for differences. This understanding and appreciation lead to more harmonious relationships and better teamwork, and it bridges the intersection between student-athletes and nonathletes on campus and in the community as a whole.
Being a part of a diverse group of people not only opens your mind but also generates the opportunity to stand in the shoes of others. It allows walls to come down and communication to run both ways, which amplifies working and succeeding together.
When you are researching colleges and universities, look beyond the trophies and the curb appeal. Dive into what really matters to you and your career.
Referring back to Mika in the story above, she didn’t feel comfortable anywhere away from her team. Can you imagine what that feels like, walking around the campus or out in the community of the place you call your college home?
Her grades suffered, her confidence was shaken, and her happiness was affected.
It pays to do your homework on everything that is important to you, not just sports.
When you are about to walk across that stage as a graduating senior in college, full of excitement about your future, you want to be happy with the college decision you made and the sports career you just finished.
This will depend on the work you do today. Make sure you look at everything, you take nothing for granted, and you don’t assume anything when you are researching colleges.
Make it your priority to find the right college fit the first time around.
Learn why the culture inside and outside the sports program matters.
A former athlete gives some advice to student athletes about taking college trips.