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University of Wisconsin-River Falls earns NCAA/MOAA Diversity Award

Athletics department has made equity and inclusion a priority in its policies and programming

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls athletics department has earned the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association’s 2019 Award for Diversity and Inclusion.

The award is a partnership between the two organizations to recognize and celebrate the practices, programs and policies of NCAA colleges, universities and athletics conference offices that embrace diversity and inclusion. Schools have been recognized for their professional development programs that help educate staff and student-athletes about inclusive practices; community outreach as it relates to diversity; and efforts that enhance opportunities for people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and experiences.

“We are truly honored to be recognized by the NCAA and MOAA for our commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said Crystal Lanning, Wisconsin-River Falls athletics director. “Inclusiveness is a core value of UW-River Falls, and Falcon athletics is proud to serve as a campus partner in creating opportunities to have conversations about cultural differences and supporting an environment where everyone feels welcomed and appreciated.”

“Inclusiveness is one of the core values of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, so we are honored to have our athletics department recognized as a national leader in diversity and inclusion efforts,” Wisconsin-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen said. “The department has implemented a comprehensive and forward-thinking set of initiatives that have enhanced culture and student success not only in athletics, but across our entire campus and within the broader community. Because of these efforts, UW-River Falls is a more welcoming and inclusive campus, and our students will be better prepared to be effective leaders and citizens.”     

Wisconsin-River Falls has implemented policies and programming that have made equity and inclusion a top priority for the athletics department. Last year, the department created Falcons United, a diversity council composed of student-athletes and staff that looks at ways to tackle tough topics and issues that help break down barriers, shatter stereotypes and find commonalities among individuals. Falcons United programs have included diversity presentations and activities that addressed social injustice, special privilege, being an LGBTQ ally, combatting microaggressions and understanding prejudices. Programming also has provided student-athletes and staff with opportunities to engage in discussions that deepen their appreciation of diversity and equity issues and with tools that enable them to become more confident and effective leaders.

The Wisconsin-River Falls athletics department also has seen benefits from its strategic plan, which calls for regular diversity and inclusion educational opportunities for student-athletes and staff. The plan outlines goals for specific diversity and inclusion initiatives and establishes guidelines for measuring the effects. Athletes and staff provide regular feedback on the effectiveness of the initiatives and where adjustments need to be made. The department hired a coordinator for diversity and inclusion to lead those efforts. 

Wisconsin-River Falls also increased staffing within athletics to reflect more diversity and increased participation opportunities for its female student-athletes. The school was also among the first in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference to create a policy that addressed transgender student-athlete needs. One such initiative included participation in the Pride Index, which evaluates LGBTQ efforts.

The department also has focused on addressing cultural awareness. It recognized African-American alumni and their accomplishments during Black History Month, which also served as an encouragement to student-athletes and educated the local community on the positive contributions that have been made to society. Additional activities include athletics teams receiving inclusivity training that focuses on the importance of inclusive language. The department also made it mandatory that all incoming student-athletes participate in relationship violence prevention training through the One Love program.

Externally, staff members have participated in summits and town hall events that promote best practices for improving race relations and creating safe spaces. The athletics department also has collaborated with other university departments in their efforts to enhance universitywide education as it relates to inclusion and diversity. 

The Wisconsin-River Falls athletics department will receive the 2019 Award for Diversity and Inclusion at the NCAA Convention in January in Orlando. The NCAA and MOAA also recognized the America East Conference, Oklahoma State and Springfield as honorable mentions for their diversity and inclusion programming and initiatives.