Grand Valley State Earns NCAA 2023 Diversity and Inclusion Award

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Grand Valley State has earned the 2023 NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletic Association Award for Diversity and Inclusion. The Division II university in Allendale, Michigan, will be honored Jan. 13 during the Saluting Excellence Luncheon at the 2023 NCAA Convention.

The NCAA/MOAA Award for Diversity and Inclusion recognizes the initiatives, policies and practices of schools and conference offices that embrace diversity and inclusion across intercollegiate athletics. This can be achieved through community service, professional development, hiring practices or programming activities that enhance opportunities for people of diverse cultures, backgrounds and experiences.

"Grand Valley State's commitment to an inclusive environment is demonstrated in its consistent diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging efforts that penetrate throughout the university," said Felicia Martin, NCAA senior vice president of inclusion, education and community engagement. "The committee was impressed with the depth of cross-campus collaboration, the intentional and strategic programming and the expanded student-led and student-centered programming."

Grand Valley State Director of Athletics Keri Becker has made the principle and practice of inclusion a core foundation of the athletics department.

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

One of the best examples of the athletics department's commitment to an inclusive environment is the Laker Inclusion Team. Created to initiate meaningful and measurable action that enhances diversity, equity and inclusion within the athletics department and campus community, the team developed an impact plan with six main points:

1. Listen carefully and elevate the voices of student-athletes and staff with marginalized identities, valuing each member.

2. Deepen understanding and knowledge through education, domestic and international cultural exchange and culture building that reflects the diversity of the student-athlete population.

3. Use this understanding and knowledge as the basis for addressing institutional and systemic oppressions to make meaningful change.

4. Remain student-led, student-driven and intentionally responsive to the unique needs of student-athletes and staff around issues related to racism, anti-LGBTQ biases and other oppressions.

5. Develop and foster a culture within athletics that allows student-athletes to bring their whole selves via an intersectional, anti-oppression approach.

6. Build strategic relationships with key campus and external partners and experts to drive learning, cultural engagement and cultural expansion.

Part of the inclusion team's work involves the SEA of Change and Waves of Change programs. 

Created in 2021 as part of a four-year rollout, SEA is an acronym for supporting, elevating and activating. The program focuses on creating an inclusive environment by breaking down barriers between new classmates and teammates and understanding the inherent values of Grand Valley State athletics in an engaging half-day, conference-style experience with relevant topics curated by student-athletes.

Waves of Change was born from insights of student-athletes who participated in SEA of Change. The initiative has focused on continuing conversations with student-athletes from other teams and expert panelists. Some of the topics in the inaugural two years of the program have included: Social Justice 101, Athletes Igniting Action, Election Day Warmup and Mental Health/DEI Intersections. 

Feedback from student-athletes participating in the programs helped develop a framework for engaging student-athletes in these conversations, as well as in leadership opportunities around these conversations. This framework has been extended to inform programming outside the purview of the inclusion team to help internal and external partners provide the most engaging and culturally relevant opportunities for student-athletes.

"It has been awesome to watch our partners in athletics further invest in embedding inclusion and equity efforts into the fabric of who they are and what they do," said Marlene Kowalski-Braun, associate vice president and deputy chief inclusion and equity officer. "The commitment of time and talent to develop the SEA of Change and Waves of Change programs, not to mention the behind-the-scenes education and effort, is notable. Most importantly, that these efforts were born out of the collaboration between staff and student-athletes as co-partners in designing, creating and implementing the programs is to be celebrated."

Additionally, Grand Valley State's athletics leadership has invested in developing the role of an athletics inclusion coordinator. 

It is a priority of Grand Valley State to build relationships across campus that bring expertise, fill gaps, meet needs, provide community and develop a culture where all belong.

"While this award is not possible without the remarkable investments of our student-athletes, this recognition by the NCAA and MOAA is an honor that can be shared by all," said Callie Youngman, athletics inclusion coordinator. "It also serves as an indicator that the Laker Inclusion Team, SEA of Change and Waves of Change are strong frameworks to enhance the diversity, equity and inclusion within our athletic department and campus community. The building of this foundation was student-led, student-driven and intentionally responsive. This is a moment to celebrate what has been built so far and to gain momentum for the work ahead."

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