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Inclusion Insights: Bowling Green

Yannick Kluch leads a session at the WA1T Team Player Program. Bowling Green State University photo

At Bowling Green, the student-athletes, administrators and coaches hold one another accountable to have difficult conversations that ensure inclusivity is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The school’s work is being mirrored at different schools and even at the conference level.

The Genesis: Athletics leaders can pinpoint the program that started the school’s devotion to inclusion five years ago: We Are One Team, led by graduate student Yannick Kluch and a group of dedicated students and student-athletes. While diversity and inclusion were being discussed already at what administrators call “a microlevel” — on individual teams and in certain spaces — WA1T allowed them to transcend athletics and become a part of the overall campus culture.

The program uses sports as a forum to create dialogue and promote friendship among stereotyped groups on campus, including student-athletes, minority groups, faculty, staff and the general student body. The aim is to build a sense of community and facilitate an environment that values divergent voices. “The concept was tremendous,” says Lauren Ashman, senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator. “From there, we had to determine how we were going to take the concept and really turn it into something that was practical and applicable to our student population.”

First Steps: When Kluch launched WA1T, he formed a leadership board comprising representatives from more than 25 partners across campus. “The power of WA1T at Bowling Green is the student involvement,” Kluch says. “WA1T gives them an outlet to use their voice to bring people together, deconstruct stereotypes and create an environment in which everyone is valued and heard — all through the power of sport.”

The Culture Now: Within a year, WA1T had a snowball effect not only in athletics, but also within the university as a whole. The program also received the 2017 Award for Diversity and Inclusion from the NCAA and the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association.

Since its launch, WA1T has spearheaded multiple programs and initiatives on campus. The WA1T Team Player Program is a yearlong inclusive leadership certificate specifically designed for student-athletes, and to date more than 40 student-athletes have completed the program. They also have created a speaker series and have regularly held WA1T Sporting Days, which bring together international students and student-athletes, and a photo campaign aimed at promoting acceptance at the university. In addition, teams regularly sponsor inclusion nights and award both team and individual inclusion awards at their end-of-year banquets.

 

Speak Up

My Advice | By Lauren Ashman | as told to Emily Weisman

Lauren Ashman is senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at Bowling Green. Bowling Green State University photo

I think there’s a big misconception about what our role is as senior woman administrators. We are tasked on our campus with a variety of responsibilities, and for a lot of us, that includes equity. And a lot of people just think that that’s equity in terms of Title IX. … But equity means so much more, and that’s really where you see the diversity and inclusion component.

Somebody in my position typically engages with a lot of different offices on campus. We have a great ability to be collaborative with a variety of resources on campus, and it’s a matter of really being able to utilize and leverage those relationships to enhance what we are doing in athletics and to make sure what we are doing is aligning with what the institution is expecting.

We really have the opportunity to be that check and balance to make sure that we are not only setting the standard, but we’re also being a good partner in these efforts, and we’re extending our hand and saying, “Do you want to work together on this?” We want to make sure we are providing the best representation that we can for not just athletics, but the institution as a whole. And I think folks in my position can really utilize that and take that and run with it.