A recreation center should be centered around community, a place where students can come together to work on their health, fitness and overall wellness, including LGBTQA students. But does everyone really feel welcome? Does your recreation center cater to all students, regardless of their needs?
“It has to start at the top and be reflected in the mission,” said Gregg Bates, the director of campus recreation at the University of Vermont. “We are in a community that is very diverse and our goal is to meet the needs of that community, so recognizing that in our mission statement is very important.”
The LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Asexual/Aromantic, Allies and Advocates) Center at UVM, helps to create this friendly and inclusive campus environment for all students. “We not only directly serve LGBTQA folks here, but we do a lot of consultation to help other parts of the university do a better job of serving LGBTQA affiliates,” said Dot Brauer, director of the LGBTQA Center.
According to Brauer, the campus climate has improved since the LGBTQA Center was founded in 1999, but that doesn’t mean the work is done. “There has been a lot of progress at the University of Vermont, but that is not true everywhere,” said Brauer. “University of Vermont is not the only school that can feel good about the progress we have made, but there are more campuses that still need to do some substantial work. It is an incredibly varied picture right now, because we are in such a cultural transition.”
So how can you ensure that all students feel welcome within your recreation center? Brauer and Bates outlined a few steps that will aid your facility in becoming more inclusive.
Education: Awareness of the issues is the first step to developing an inclusive campus environment. “If you have an office like this one on campus, take advantage of that,” said Brauer. “Reach out to them, ask them if they can come in and talk to staff and conduct staff training. Most of the time, many of the instances when negative things are said or negative action occurs, it is due to lack of knowledge. The first things you need to do is address that.”
Assess Polices: Take time to review the practices and policies within your rec center. Consider how these policies might impact LGBTQA students. For example, while traditionally intramural and club sports might have been gendered, are all of those policies still relevant? “We are advocating for more attention to that practice and considering, when is it really necessary to be gendered? Instead of gendering everything, maybe pick and choose the times you gender these rec teams,” added Brauer.
For example, the recreation department at the university developed a transgender policy for participation in intramural sports, which allows transgender students to participate in sports based on their gender identity.
Work on the Climate: Make sure your rec center has a culture of acceptance and that permeates both among staff and users of the facility. According to Brauer, this is less pressing of a need today than it was in 1999 when the LGBTQA office was created, partly because the national, regional and local climate has changed in a pretty positive direction. But she stressed that there are going to be sub-sets of the population that are less informed.
“Take a hard look at your program. Really try to put yourself in the shoes of people who aren’t using your facility and figure out why,” said Bates. “Try to figure out if there is a better way to meet the needs of everyone, because ultimately that is why we are here. We are trying to give everyone on campus the chance to be healthy, but to do that we have to make it a welcoming place for them.”
Advocacy: If there is an incident, how will you handle it to ensure it does not happen again? “When something negative does occur that impacts an LGBTQA affiliate, we actively advocate on their behalf when needed to make sure they get the support they need,” said Brauer. “We don’t just want them to feel supported in that moment, we also want to address whatever the policy and practice was and make sure it gets changed to forestall further harms in the future.”