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Inclusion Insights: University of Wisconsin-River Falls

UW-River Falls brought the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality to campus for a panel discussion about the intersection of sports and inclusion. The panel featured former student-athletes from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. University of Wisconsin-River Falls photo

At the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, diversity and inclusion programming has been organic from the start — “homegrown,” as Athletics Director Crystal Lanning calls it. The school works within its budget and leverages its best resources: passionate and dedicated administrators who make the impossible possible.

The Genesis: During strategic planning discussions in 2017, diversity and inclusion emerged as a top priority for the athletics department, partly to align with the university’s goals. That emphasis allowed the campus and athletics to work together to maximize resources.

“I think that was the starting point for us. It was a way for us to make sure that we were prioritizing the university’s values and initiatives, and putting them into athletics,” Lanning says.

First Steps: Incorporating inclusion initiatives in the strategic plan meant creating measurable goals that athletics staff members can use to hold one another accountable year to year. Each year the athletics staff reviews the strategic plan to see what it has accomplished and where it needs to go next.

Among the early goals was to take advantage of existing grants and programs that could help UW-River Falls launch its efforts. It applied for and received a Division III Ethnic Minority and Women’s Internship Grant and used the funds to hire a coordinator for diversity and inclusion programming.

The Culture Now: When that coordinator, Chantel Flegler, was hired, part of her job was to identify programs that would be sustainable even after the grant position ended. And now that the grant is concluding, Lanning can point to several other initiatives that will help the athletics department continue to be a campus leader in diversity and inclusion efforts.

Among them, UW-River Falls has developed a policy for transgender student-athletes that complements the NCAA’s national policy and also developed educational materials that help coaches and administrators understand and follow the guidelines. The school also revised the sportsmanship statement read before home games to make
it more inclusive.

“We’re just constantly looking for ways that we can provide education and mentoring opportunities to our coaches and staff,” Lanning says.