SEA of Change initiative helps bring down barriers between GVSU student athletes

An initiative by Grand Valley’s Athletics Department to help student athletes understand the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion received so much positive feedback that the department is planning future sessions to expand the discussions.

Originally, the SEA (Supporting, Elevating, and Activating) of Change program aimed to unite first-year and transfer student athletes at the start of the fall semester to discuss issues affecting their classmates on campus.

“We did a survey of student athletes, and we found the main things they want to see, like engaging with others,” said Director of Athletics Keri Becker. “It was bringing to life the voice of the student athletes, and what they thought was important.”

Member of track-and-field team during hammer throw event
Judith Essemiah, a junior on the GVSU track-and-field team, was one of two student athletes on the planning committee for the SEA of Change initiative.
Image Credit: Athletics Department

The initiative began as a result of Grand Valley being selected to participate in an NCAA forum addressing issues related to disability, LGBTQ, race and ethnicity, and women.

But with the advent of COVID-19 and other social and cultural issues arising, the athletics department faced a pivotal question, said Becker.

“What are things we can be doing to promote an inclusive environment?” she said.

Through a series of planning sessions and surveys, the core of the program was established.

The goal was two-fold: break down barriers between new classmates and teammates, and help them understand the inherent values of Grand Valley athletics, said Ali Thompson, a junior on the volleyball team and a member of the planning committee.

“It was cool to see first year students who don’t really know one another start to share deep, personal stories and things that they faced in their lives,” said Thompson. “I think that was eye-opening for a lot of them.”

The feedback from participants was so positive that the administration wants to broaden future sessions to include upperclass students and help promote those relationships, said Becker.

“There were a lot of different perspectives, and it was very engaging,” said Judith Essemiah, a junior on the track and field team and a member of the planning committee.

“I hope the next time, it can be a little more interactive, but this is a great first step, and it will only get better from here."