Published: Feb. 22, 2024

Inclusive Sports Summit

Last week, CU Boulder Recreation Services and Athletics hosted their seventh annual Inclusive Sports Summit, and this year’s theme was “Unity: Breaking Barriers and Building Bridges through Sports and Recreation.” Speakers ranging from recreational therapists to student athletes and everything in between, shared their insights on fostering empowerment, inclusion, impact, diversity and growth in sports culture.

Implementing and maintaining diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives is not a short-term project. Jennifer Williams, keynote speaker and chief development officer of the USA Basketball Foundation, emphasized that any DEI journey is one of both challenge and reward, and the key to seeing success is authenticity.

Responses from those in attendance, when asked what authenticity means to them, made it apparent that authenticity translates to many things for many people. But one definition the audience agreed on was transparency, and the overarching goal is to be brave enough to show other people you’re capable of critiquing and empowering yourself.

Student perspectives

Throughout her presentation, Williams stressed the importance of acknowledging the value in everyone’s experiences, including your peers’ and your own.

“Respect and appreciate the diversity of your peers’ backgrounds, experiences and perspectives,” Williams said. “The magic truly happens when you have diversity in thought around the table.” 

Some students, like Febien Teklu, felt as though they were already finding seats at the table simply by attending the conference.

“I feel like this conference was more interactive, and as [Williams] was talking, I felt like I had a reason to put input in rather than feeling like, ‘oh you’re the leader and I’ll just fall back and listen,’” Teklu expressed. “It was very moving and everyone, even though we are still college students, treated us like we have the same amount of input as the next person, which I thought was very powerful.”

Teklu is a member of the Multicultural Leadership Scholars Pathway program (MLS). As part of the CU Boulder School of Education, MLS supports the development of leaders from diverse backgrounds through coursework, service and socialization.

The program requires students to complete a capstone project, and Teklu, as well as other members of MLS, were excited to learn that the summit topics aligned with their current project.

“We’re doing our capstone project on minorities in sports, both as a culture and as a business and the capitalism behind that,” Sophia Brewer said. “We saw the poster for this and thought it would be really interesting to come to…and get to hear from people who work within that industry and deal with those problems every day.”

Isaac Sear shared the same sentiment.

“This is a critical part for our leadership capstone, and it’s helpful to get exposure to people of color, collaborate with the community and involve ourselves with people who have a lot of knowledge,” Sear said. “I always want to advance myself and build connections.”

Hands-on learning with Craig Hospital

In addition to providing faculty, staff, students, professionals and community members an opportunity to network, the summit gave attendees the chance to participate in hands-on learning as well.

Representatives from Craig Hospital, Emily Aldridge and Megan Frisco, presented on the importance of providing access to recreation after a spinal cord or brain injury, specifically through adaptive equipment.

Participants were able to use the equipment, gaining a better understanding of how it works and the specific functions. The first-hand experience provided a more in-depth education about some of the barriers, benefits and safety aspects of adaptive recreational equipment.

A question brought up by Dr. Erin Patchett, whose earlier presentation touched on removing biases from DEI and social-justice-based work, addressed ways to deconstruct the narrative that adaptive sports are inspiring.

“I feel like I’ve been exposed sometimes in sports and recreation to a narrative that folks are really inspired by people with disabilities doing sports, and I think that framing is often from the expectation that they’re not capable,” Dr. Patchett said.

Aldridge recommended being upfront and acknowledging that for most people, adaptive recreation is an entirely new sport—it will be difficult at first. But most importantly she emphasized bringing humanity into the framing.

“In those moments you don’t have to consider the inspiring nature of it all…they’re just learning a sport the way any other able-bodied student on campus would be,” Aldridge said. “We’re not telling people picking up a frisbee for the first time they’re inspiring either.”

The term “sports culture” encompasses the values and practices associated with sports or physical activity. To understand the impact of this year’s inclusive sports summit, recognize that issues such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ability and class have always and will continue to heavily influence that culture.

While the issues alone carry significant weight and importance, in looking at where to start with DEI efforts, it does not take initiating a phenomenon as big as the Super Bowl to make an impact. Something as simple as facilitating, joining or inviting someone else to join the conversation can create a monumental shift.