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Student-Athletes Discuss Diversity at NCAA Convention

What does it mean to have diversity programs that are really inclusive—from the standpoint of the student athlete? That was the focus of a panel of former student athletes, now graduates, who shared their real life experiences with an audience of higher education athletics administrators at the 2013 convention of the NCAA in Dallas, Jan. 13-19.

The seven member panel reflected diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, LGBT, culture, sight and speech impairment, and collegiate athletic experiences. But they generally agreed that inclusion means respecting all values, and beliefs that can come from many different people.

Practicing inclusion creates the opportunity for success by learning from the skills and talents of people different from you, said Tiara Iwegbu, a graduate Dallas Baptist University whose sport was Volleyball.  And we should have more workshops teaching administrators how to do this.  Kyle Bradley, a graduate of the University of Missouri, whose is sight impaired said coaches learned from him by having players close eyes while practicing free throw.

We live in a diverse environment already but learning how to make everyone feel comfortable is what inclusion is all about, the panel said.  In fact, when asked what was the most perplexing question colleges face?  Mara said “inclusion differs from just having student programs it means each school has to figure out who they have there and how to include them.”

Responding to the question of how they learned what diversity is each panel member individually said being a part of diverse families had great impact on their understanding what diversity is.  Kye Allen, who racially appears African American said he’s an advocate for trans gender issues and his family also has persons of French and Italian ethnicity.  He is also, a graduate of George Washington University who played division I basketball.

Why is it important that inclusion be modeled and practiced?  “It is important to talk about inclusion but actions speak louder than words. I learn to be the person I want to be by observing the people around me” said Mara Blesoff, a graduate of Wellesley who played softball and an advocate for trans gender issues.

Modeling and practicing inclusion brings it all together” said Ryan Smith, a Southern Methodist University graduate who played football.  â€śOne thing that can be done is to try to know everybody on personal level and that makes it easier to work together as a team.”

When asked what the NCAA could do the panel said have programming, put it in action , seek understanding from students, be open minded and be willing to change.

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