Promoting inclusivity in athletics

The NCAA provides a DEI framework for colleges to use as a guide. Photo courtesy of

By Gunnhildur Baldursdottir

The Youngstown State University Athletic Department is taking steps to secure a safe space for student-athletes with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

In February 2023, a club for YSU student-athletes of color called For The Culture was established to provide a place for students to have conversations about their feelings, current events and topics about different cultures.

For The Culture was started by Jaysen Spencer, director of Athletic Academic Services and a senior minority administrator, and Johnny Ware, coordinator of Student Enrichment and Diversity Programs.

“I knew our student-athletes needed some type of community to be engaged with. Instead of having just specific sports, we opened it up to our student-athletes of color,” Spencer said. “Whether you’re Asian, Hispanic, Black, or of whatever culture, we want to be inclusive for all our students and programs.” 

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, all Division I schools must conduct a diversity, equity and inclusion review every four years. To complete the review, the NCAA offers a framework that schools can use to support their student-athletes.

Spencer said YSU Athletics is working on accomplishing four main goals within the next two to three years — creating affinity groups for women, LGBTQ students and and students of color. Athletics has also established a DEI steering committee to increase intention in hiring processes. 

Rebecca Fink is the senior associate athletic director of Compliance Academics and Sports Supervision. Fink said Athletics to promote an inclusive environment for student-athletes and staff members. 

Fink said both minority student-athletes and non student-athletes have experienced microaggressions, unintentional barriers, stereotyping and discrimination in their college careers.

“We have talked about microaggressions. There’s not always large things occurring, but sometimes it’s the smaller things that people say without thinking about it,” Fink said. “The unintentional barriers exist for some of our students, whether it’s students that maybe have differences in learning or maybe things are happening that we don’t know about that are unintentionally creating obstacles.” 

Macy Wang is a junior nursing major on the swimming and diving team. Wang, whose father is from China, said she has experienced discrimination as a YSU athlete. 

“I wouldn’t say I ever felt like I didn’t belong, but there’s definitely been some discrimination every now and then. It’s kind of sad to say, but I’m just used to it,” Wang said. “It’s just little jokes, I guess nothing super mean, ‘Oh, of course, she’s smart.’ It’s annoying because your friend next to you does not have to deal with that.” 

Wang said providing education about minority groups on campus can make a change. 

Editor’s note: Gunnhildur Baldursdottir is an athlete on the YSU swimming and diving team.