The EDI Conversation in Campus Rec


There has been a palpable shift in the EDI conversation. However, Lashica Thomas said it hasn’t evolved but is rather more of a trend, which worries her.

“I am always leery of trendy things because this topic is too important to just go away,” said Thomas, the interim director of Campus Recreation at Columbus State University. “I think EDI should be a topic and included on agendas, on trainings, etc., weaving it into all fabrics of operation.”

How can campus recreation make sure the increased focus and conversations around EDI aren’t just trending now? 

It begins at the top in order to create a culture that goes beyond a leader’s initiatives. Jim Wilkening, the executive director of the Recreation and Wellness Center at the University of Central Florida (UCF), said he was challenged by a close friend when he first got the job on why there was little diversity in the existing staff. “That pushed me internally,” he said.

Over the years, he fought for full-time and student staff diversity, EDI initiatives, and more. “How we know we are succeeding is when I don’t have to push,” said Wilkening. “Our staff is doing it now. That’s how I can see things are infused. People are bringing suggestions to me.”

EDI in Programs and Hiring

Those suggestions have led to a variety of ways UCF is addressing EDI in the recreation department. One of those includes its Campus Police Conversations. Wilkening shared they’ve held the event several times with great success. 

There are three formal parts to it: an icebreaker looks to find the commonalities and differences between campus police and students; small roundtables group police officers with students to help students see the officers as people and the officers hear students’ concerns; the last piece is a panel of officers, Wilkening and the police chief answering questions that are both scripted and from the audience.

EXTRA CREDIT: Sophia Marshall shares three of EDI initiatives at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Continuing the EDI conversations also means understanding equity, diversity and inclusion. “Each mean different things, yet each deserve to be equally understood and valued within your department,” said Stephanne Musser, the assistant director for Fitness at The Ohio State University (OSU). “It is important to take the time to learn and understand each.”

Musser explained one way OSU is taking that time is through its staff hiring and recruitment process. She said you need to ask yourself questions like:

  • How are you recruiting staff?
  • Is there an intentional commitment to have representation on your current team that is broad and diverse?
  • Is your application accessible and do your hiring practices reflect the values your department has in regards to EDI practices?

Wilkening also noted hiring is where a focus on EDI can really make an impact. He will ask candidates to define what diversity and inclusion means to them. He will also ask them for experiences in leading an EDI program and learn if they are open to being educated on it. 

“It’s important to hire people with that EDI lens because then they are looking for ways to infuse diversity into their program areas, and it’s not me making you do something,” said Wilkening.

Thomas reiterated the intentionality of hiring and how they are soliciting potential job applicants. She also noted how their group fitness program is focusing on offering more gender-neutral classes and hiring more diverse instructors.

EXTRA CREDIT: Erin Stelma dives into three pieces of advice when it comes to hiring diverse talent for your recreation department.

The biggest piece of advice from Thomas involved EDI and planning. “Include EDI at the forefront of planning just like we do with our budgets prior to the programming conversation, and definitely not as an afterthought,” she said.

One final note came from Wilkening on embedding the EDI conversation in your culture. He noted the EDI journey starts with yourself and personal relationships. “I believe a check-in is important, but it has to come from an authentic and real place,” he said. “Educate yourself, develop genuine and authentic relationships, and be willing to put yourself out there. Relationships with staff prior to a national event taking place allows for you to be there and ensure your team feels welcome and included in your environment.”

All in all, campus rec provides a great platform for EDI. But it’s not just about checking EDI off your list. As Thomas shared, it’s key this isn’t just a trend. And Wilkening couldn’t agree more.

“EDI work is not a checkmark item,” said Wilkening. “It’s never done. You’re always striving to learn and grow and implement and impact. We are always dealing with new student users and employees. There is constant work for us to do.” 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Heather Hartmann is the editor for Campus Rec Magazine. She can be reached at

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