When you look around your facility, the question isn’t who is there, but rather who isn’t?
Jen Armbruster, the coordinator of inclusive rec and community service at Portland State University, said that’s the question to ask when trying to reach underrepresented populations in your campus recreation center. “It’s looking around and seeing who is not in your facility or programs,” said Armbruster. “Ask the questions of what are the actual or perceived barriers, and go from there.”
For Portland State, Armbruster said folks with disabilities, the queer community, international students, students with children, women and veterans are among the underrepresented populations. Reaching these demographics fulfills campus recreation’s desire to help folks find community at the rec center.
“It’s part of our mission and vision, and what we want to provide for all students and the campus community,” said Armbruster. “We want folks to have a place where they are welcomed and included, somewhere to go that is not academic-based and they can take care of themselves emotionally, mentally and physically.”
In the 2017-2018 school year, The College at Brockport campus recreation department saw 80 percent of the student body participate in at least one event organized by them. “We have room for improvement,” said Scott Haines, the director of campus recreation.
He said they also have to take into consideration their large percentage of commuter and transfer students. In fact, increased recruitment efforts to New York City and Long Island has increased the number of students of color. “This has given the department an opportunity to look at new programming opportunities,” said Haines.
By offering a diverse set of programming, Armbruster said they reach more demographics. It boosts people’s feelings of being welcomed and included. “We offer the sport chairs for wheelchair basketball,” said Armbruster. “You don’t have to be a wheelchair user to come play, just come play. Having a pool party with pride flags and a DJ from the queer community markets a safe place already for folks who might not have viewed the pool as a safe place before.”
Plus, there are a lot of creative ways to reach the underrepresented populations on campus:
At equipment check out, change the language from “men” or “women” – for items like basketballs – to simply “large” or “small.”
Instead of a gender check box on a personal training form, change it to a blank space.
In cycling classes or on the cardio floor, add Krankcycles.
Put tactile indicators on cardio machines for your blind patrons.
Have special events like Pride kickball, or host a pool party with the Pacific Islander club performing.
Offer free gear rental over Veterans Day to military and their families.
“There are so many different programs and facility features to talk about, I could go on forever,” said Armbruster.
At Brockport, Haines said they market to their various populations through dialogue, social media, website presence, digital signage, etc. “In addition, we have partnered with Reach Digital Signage to streamline the process of sharing information throughout campus with other spaces that have digital signage,” said Haines. “We also set up tables in the student union building for tabling and portable poster boards in targeted areas.”
When it comes down to it, engagement is vital to student retention at a campus recreation center. Thus, Haines sees trying to serve all students as essential. “If the program was safe, and well run, yet we only had a couple of students attend who haven’t been engaged on campus before, this is a success,” he said.
Armbruster said connecting with resource centers on campus is key when it comes to inclusivity. “It’s part of our mission and vision and what we want to provide for all students and the campus community,” said Armbruster.
For Haines, it comes down to offering quality events and activities in partnership with others. That is vital when it comes to student success. “Whether we are opening the doors of our facility for other groups to use, or providing additional funds for a program, the campus must have a common goal of doing our best to offer opportunities for all students.”