Athletics' diversity, inclusion practices honored at NCAA national conference

The Grand Valley Athletics Department was honored on January 13 in San Antonio, Texas, at the NCAA Convention as this year’s recipient of the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association Award for Diversity and Inclusion.

Since 2013, the NCAA and MOAA recognize an athletic conference or a university’s athletic department for its implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion policies and practices. Grand Valley becomes the second NCAA Division II member to receive the honor. 

The selection committee, composed of MOAA members, the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee and the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics, cited Grand Valley’s work with its Laker Inclusion Team, the SEA of Change initiative, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Title IX and Black History Month celebrations. 

The Laker Inclusion Team was created to initiate meaningful and measurable action that enhances diversity, equity and inclusion within the athletics department and campus community. 

“This award is a testament to the difficult work that Laker Athletics has committed to,” said President Philomena V. Mantella. “This work shows our current and future student athletes that we are committed to their success. This work far extends past our athletes and ultimately helps support our diversity and inclusion work for all students and our campus.”

One of the Laker Inclusion Team’s initiatives — SEA (Supporting, Elevating, Activating) of Change — fosters engagement, communication and understanding among student athletes. This year’s workshops covered issues related to social action in college athletics, the LGBT community and understanding the Black student experience. 

“The creation of the Laker Inclusion Team began as a small group of individuals who raised their hand to do this work and has continued to grow, which was the goal,” said Director of Athletics Keri Becker. “We have an inclusive process, continual feedback loop, and people who are ‘doers.’ This was the only way to create our Sea of Change program, improve it, and implement it in a sustainable way.”

Becker also thanked the work of Assistant Volleyball Coach Callie Youngman, one of the committee members for SEA of Change, for her work helping to execute DEI initiatives and her ability to connect with other GVSU entities, like the Social Justice Centers and the Division of Inclusion and Equity. 

“Having the NCAA and MOAA recognize GVSU Athletics in this way is an honor and a mandate to continue this work,” said Youngman. “Many hands, hearts and minds have poured into the programs and initiatives of the Laker Inclusion Team. Collectively, we try to live by the motto 'nothing about us without us,' and that means keeping students at the center, both in planning and in action.”

Previous recipients of the award include: Northern Illinois University (2022); Towson University (2021); University of Oregon (2020); University of Wisconsin, River Falls (2019); University of Buffalo (2018); and Bowling Green State University (2017).