Over the past few years, diversity and inclusion initiatives have become a hot topic in the industry. An increasing number of collegiate recreation departments are developing policies regarding LGBTQA participation. This is an extremely relevant topic for any aquatic center, dealing with locker and changing rooms — policies are required to address any issues that might arise.
“Many recreation professionals are starting to critically reflect on their existing policies and figure out ways to be inclusive and welcoming to the LGBTQA community,” said Erin Patchett, the associate director for administration at Colorado State University. “Whether that is ensuring memberships are open to partners or locker rooms are accessible based on gender identity, many people are paying more attention to these important topics.”
If you are looking to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students on campus, it is important to address the current situation before you can begin developing a plan for the future. The Colorado State University Campus Recreation Department conducts in-house audits to examine how they are, or are not, serving the needs of marginalized communities. “We have evaluated everything from policies, facilities and staff trainings to marketing, programming and business practices,” said Patchett. “In doing those audits, we have partnered with people and departments on our campus that are also working to serve diverse communities.”
According to Patchett, as a result of those audits they have made numerous changes regarding their operations, one being the development of the Inclusivity Committee. “Having this committee provides a venue for people who are passionate about this work to come together and take action on striving to create an organization which welcomes and celebrates all identities,” she added.
Once you have evaluated the present state of your department, you can begin to develop new or additional policies and procedures that will enhance the inclusive environment within your facility. As Maureen McGonagle, the director of campus recreation at DePaul University, explained a key element to this is clear communication with all staff. This may sound basic and instinctual to some, but it is important not to assume everyone is on the same page. It is essential to make sure student staff and even all professional staff are aware of the importance of being inclusive and understand that the recreation center is an inclusive place for all students.
“We seek out conversations with different populations and we listen,” said McGonagle. “We train our student staff so they both understand our values and know how our values should inform their work. We try to communicate inclusiveness in a way that individuals who are frequently excluded can feel seen, safe and supported. Our goal is for our prioritization of inclusion to be obvious in everything we say and do.”
Clarify your department values and ensure the polices, promotional materials, signage, trainings and actions clearly communicate those values. “We require all full-time staff to participate in Safe Zone training where we carefully review promotional materials to make sure that the images and language send an inclusive message,” added McGonagle. “We review our policies and procedures to ensure that they are fair and inclusive. We make sure our policies are posted and are easily accessible. We wrote scripts for our student staff so they not only thoroughly understand our policies, but also had suggestions on how to clearly communicate them.”
Providing a safe, inclusive and welcoming environment for the entire campus community can be a challenging undertaking depending on campus resources. But if you want to increase your inclusivity practices, both McGonagle and Patchett suggest seeking information from others on your campus and across the industry.
“Find relevant online and social media resources to stay current and curious,” suggested McGonagle. “Join groups that seek to educate and facilitate dialogue and support inclusion and diversity issues. Participate in campus events, including those organized by students, to visibly demonstrate your support and commitment to continuous learning.”