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WSF Talks Equity on the Sidelines at 2017 NCAA Inclusion Forum

The WSF recently attended the 2017 NCAA Inclusion Forum from April 21-23 in Providence, Rhode Island. The purpose behind this event is to bring together higher education and intercollegiate athletics leaders and student-athletes who are passionate about improving the educational and professional environment for student-athletes, coaches and staff. Numerous sessions are held over the course of the three days, engaging people on a variety of topics related to policy, research and best practices that support racial and ethnic minorities, women, international student-athletes, LGBTQ and athletes with disabilities. This year the WSF was honored to take part in a session entitled “Equity on the Sidelines: Examining the X’s and O’s of Developing, Supporting and Advancing Women Coaches in Intercollegiate Athletics.” The presentation was made by WSF Senior Manager of Advocacy and Programs, Sarah Axelson.

Here, Sarah shares her experience at this game-changing event…

There are certain points in life when you realize you are in the presence of true legends; while there are many times I have met people I admire, I have had at least two instances of being in the company of legends during my tenure at the Women’s Sports Foundation. I’m talking about the kind of legends you read about in your history books.

The first time I recall this happening, was during the WSF’s conference in conjunction with the University of Michigan for Title IX’s 40th Anniversary when I had the honor to hear Dr. Bernice Sandler speak about how she became known as the “Godmother of Title IX,” what an experience! The second time this happened was this past weekend, not long before the 45th anniversary of Title IX. I had the honor to attend the NCAA’s Inclusion Forum and hear directly from Dr. Charlotte West and Dr. Christine Grant, pioneers who led the way for the growth of women’s athletics and tirelessly advocated for Title IX.

They spoke about the history of women’s collegiate athletics including the growth of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women and the subsequent merger with the NCAA. While it was a history lesson I was familiar with, it took on a life of its own coming directly from Dr. Charlotte West who experienced it firsthand. We then heard from Dr. Christine Grant who spoke about her time leading the University of Iowa’s Athletic Department and the steps she took to fight for equity for female student-athletes. Dr. Grant pointed to the need for women to take on leadership roles in all facets of society and how when we do, we will become more productive and successful.

At several points Dr. West and Dr. Grant mentioned that they came out of retirement for this talk, and I’m so glad they did. Kudos to the NCAA Office of Inclusion team for convincing these two pioneers to come out of retirement in order to share their knowledge and empower the 500+ attendees at the Forum. I am hopeful that a few more legends were born that night.

When the speech was over, a colleague asked if I could feel the proverbial torch being passed. I could, but the overwhelming feeling was about a new generation of advocates being activated, not just me individually. WSF could not do the work we do without the advocates and organizations with which we are able to collaborate. We are in this together and I’m so pleased that so many could be there to witness these two legends firsthand.

The following day, I took the stage with colleagues Dr. Nicole LaVoi from the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport and Diane Milutinovich, Associate Athletic Director emeritus of California State University Fresno. It was a privilege to share the stage with these two women. We spoke about the decline of women coaches since the passage of Title IX, the gender bias that often exists in collegiate athletics (as uncovered in our latest research Beyond X’s & O’s) , and how schools can support their female coaches in order to better recruit and retain women in coaching positions. Dr. LaVoi also presented preliminary findings from the new research she is working on – I cannot wait to see the final report!

During our session I was afforded the opportunity to share a very brief introduction to a new project we are working on here at the WSF, a Title IX mobile game, which is currently in development. We are excited to use technology to help educate and empower student-athletes about their rights to an equitable sports experience under Title IX. We can’t wait to share more about the mobile game with you this summer. If you are interested in learning more, be sure to email us and ask that we add you to our list so you are among the first to know.

The Inclusion Forum brought together people from a variety of backgrounds and presented them with a wide range of topics and panels to teach about diversity and inclusion best practices. Here’s to hoping that each one of those attendees can help to make an impact on the advancement of Inclusion at their campus.

To learn more about the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Advocacy Department and how we are working towards equality for every girl and woman, please click here.