Critical Conversations – George Washington University Athletics


One recent morning, Kate Dylag left the Smith Center full of energy.

In a venerable arena that vibrates daily with the incomparable electricity that comes from 400 Buff and Blue student-athletes spread across 20 teams, the veteran women’s soccer assistant coach found inspiration in a quiet boardroom.

For Dylag, the first panel discussion on the opening module of Return on Inclusion represented an important next step in the department’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We talked for an hour about things that I think need to be brought to light,” said Dylag, who has been a leader of the department’s DEI initiatives during his four years on campus. “We’re not just in athletics, we’re in the people business. I think getting to know our people and our differences and celebrating that really went beyond the work that we do with this program.”

Launched in October 2020, Return on Inclusion (ROI) offers sport-specific online training aimed at helping members of sports organizations at all levels develop leadership skills to support student-athletes across social and cultural differences. .

GW Athletics has shown its continued dedication to these crucial topics over the past three years through the efforts of its DEI Task Force, and on February 28, the department officially announced its partnership with ROI which will offer the programming to all of its coaches, administrators and staff.

Together, GW Athletics has embarked on a journey of education, reflection and discussion aimed at making the Buff and Blue community more diverse, inclusive and welcoming.

“What I love about the work we do with ROI is that it’s not just about ticking a box and saying we trained,” said the athletic director. Tanya Vogel mentioned. “We’re working to get to a place where at least we’ve all had the education. Granted, we’re not all going to be aligned on every subject, but we’ll at least have a common vocabulary and a better understanding of how our words could impact the conversation.”

ROI was founded by Nevin Caple, a former DI basketball student-athlete who has spent the past decade traveling the country as a keynote speaker and consultant to help college athletic programs become more inclusive.

The program developed by Caple includes six online modules that address topics related to diversity, inclusion and belonging through the lens of college athletics via self-reflection exercises, case studies, best practices, knowledge retention quizzes and discussion guides for group participation.

Over the course of his career in the world of college athletics, Caple has seen the conversation around these topics change. It’s no longer about advocating for their importance, but rather providing a toolkit for navigating critical discussions about race, LGBTQ+ inclusion, social justice and more.

In recent months, the organization has announced national partnerships with organizations such as the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics and United Soccer Coaches.

“A lot of the work was done by the student-athletes,” Caple said. “What has changed the most is the focus on the student-athlete experience and asking their coaches to engage in meaningful conversations that don’t necessarily involve athletics, but their experiences as people.

Caple has seen firsthand the time and resources GW has put into the space.

Three years ago, she visited Foggy Bottom as a guest speaker for the department’s spring launch event, and she’s maintained relationships within the department ever since.

“By doing this now, GW is really leading the charge,” Caple said. “Developing these skills doesn’t just happen because we want to. We have to take the steps to educate ourselves.

“This department-wide commitment will truly help redefine the standard of care in college athletics to ensure staff, particularly coaches and administrators, are socially and culturally competent enough to provide support and grow as inclusive leaders.”

GW Athletics Senior Associate Athletics Director Internal Operations/ Athletic Diversity and Inclusion Designee John Square has been a leading advocate for ROI, serving as chairman of its advisory board.

He said the lessons had a profound impact on him professionally and he looked forward to continuing to share this knowledge with his colleagues.

“What I learned is that you never know as much as you think you know,” Square said. “This process taught me to show more compassion and care for others.

“We want people to show up and be the best version of themselves, but it’s hard when you’re not being looked after like you think you should be. It really opened my eyes. eyes to ensure that I am an inclusive leader and doing what is right for others in my words and actions.”

Members of the GW Athletics DEI task force began training last month and will serve as coaches guiding others through the program.

The first department-wide discussion, covering the Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging Foundations Opening Module and moderated by Square, took place at an all-staff meeting last month at the Smith Center. Tables made up of staff from different teams and units within the department discussed what diversity looks like and why it matters.

As everyone works through the modules over the next few months, the goal is to spark critical reflection, create opportunities for discussion, and ultimately lay the groundwork for continued DEI work.

“It’s just a lot of really good information to take in,” the women’s tennis head coach said. Torrie Browning, a member of the DEI Task Force as well as the A-10 Commission on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. “For me personally, it’s already revealed some things that I thought I knew but hadn’t or maybe not thought of before or there was some new lens to look at things.

“I think it does a really good job of taking those big ideas and simplifying them to make them easy for everyone to understand.”

Dylag was among the first in the department to complete all six parts and earn her Inclusive Leader certificate.

The women’s soccer assistant said she’s used some of Caple’s strategies before with her student-athletes, including spending more time this spring discussing things unrelated to on-field performance . She stepped out of her comfort zone while reflecting on who she is as a person and a coach, and as she learned through the lessons, that is precisely the point.

“I’m proud of the work we do,” Dylag said. “It’s easy to say you’re working on diversity, equity and inclusion without working hard.

“The modules for this program are hard work, but it is such rewarding hard work. I simply couldn’t be happier that our management places such importance on having an athletic department that understands that diversity, equity, inclusion are essential and should be part of the foundation of who we are.”


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