Meaning to mission: RecWell invests in diversity, equity, and inclusion 

December 07, 2020

Meaning to mission: RecWell invests in diversity, equity, and inclusion 

With diversity and inclusion a core value of Recreation & Wellness (RecWell) at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), staff members are committed to continuing their education around it. Each chose opportunities that encouraged individual growth while contributing to the department’s mission of “providing inclusive and diverse recreational opportunities.” 

Through involvement in a racial equity challenge and department efforts that occurred as a result, RecWell has leaned into dismantling racism and strengthening their commitment to action. While there is much work yet to be done, staff are encouraged and inspired as they look ahead to the future.  

Racial equity challenge 
Five full-time staff members participated in the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge, hosted by NIRSA, leaders in collegiate recreation. As part of the challenge, participants were provided content focused on the Black American experience, including “a background of systemic racism that advanced through to allyship and making progress towards being an effective, positive ally,” described Mike Przydzial, Interim Director. The topics were widespread, reaching further than recreation and included leadership, office spaces, structures, and systems. The best part: it’s an ongoing challenge with ways to continue the conversation and put the content into practice moving forward. 

“The NIRSA 21 day challenge encouraged professionals to not only learn and be more aware, but also to be more accountable in our work. We need to be intentional about the action steps that we can take to help build greater allyship and how we can create change," stated Amy Campbell, Interim Senior Associate Director.

The challenge took people outside of their comfort zones and encouraged leaders to be more confident when talking about racism. “It opened doors for discussion outside of work. Most of the learning didn’t happen from the challenge, but from the conversations that took place with roommates and friends,” added Malia Brooks, Fitness and Wellness Program Coordinator. “I was more willing to have those conversations after learning the background and seeing from a different perspective than my own.” 

Department-led discussions  
Various workshops were hosted for RecWell student employees to better understand the importance of providing a welcoming, inclusive environment for participants. 

Microaggressions . Student-Athletes face microaggressions of race, gender, sexuality, and abilities everyday. “We have a unique opportunity to create an inclusive space for students to participate in sports and foster a sense of belonging on campus,” said Bri Slager, Program Coordinator for Sports Programs. “I used my firsthand experiences, research documents, and videos to create an engaging presentation about what students can do to educate others on their everyday bias and microaggressions.” Over 30 students participated in these various presentations throughout the semester. 

Sizeism . Kiara Hunt, Fitness and Wellness Intern, researched and presented to peers about body dysmorphia, body diversity, and body positivity. She led participants through a case study on sizeism in recreational settings and facilitated a discussion on how staff can recognize it in ourselves and in their  work, “It’s very important that everyone feels like they matter, regardless of body size, and we want everyone to feel included. The idea of body positivity is being content with the skin you’re in and taking care of yourself, as well as knowing that health is more important than size,” stated Kiara. Participants said it helped them create action steps towards eliminating those biases and reframed their thinking to avoid making assumptions about ’ client goals based on appearance. 

RecWell’s Next Steps 
Diversity, equity, and inclusion education is lifelong, and a continued priority for RecWell. 

Commitment to Action. The NIRSA framework was used recently to create objectives for this work, RecWell objectives include: 

  • creating a Recreation & Wellness Student Advisory Board, ensuring diversity of its members, and
  • developing departmental objectives and outcomes based on NIRSA DEI professional competencies. 

Commitment to Individual Learning. “A lot of individual change that happens comes from a place of compassion and experience and understanding and empathy. Learning starts at an individual level and works outward from there,” Brooks added. For RecWell, diversity and inclusion remains a priority in our mission and a key core value. And progress starts with each of us.  

Commitment to Future Conversations. A podcast I listened to discussed higher ed leaders often being afraid to talk about diversity and social justice, and if we don’t talk about it, that’s part of the problem. It’s good to be informed and educated, but we need to start speaking up and stop shying from hard conversations,” stated Campbell. “We have great opportunities for listening and learning but also for taking actions for creating more inclusive environments.”   

To join in on the conversation, here’s a good place to start:

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Page last modified December 7, 2020