UPDATE: SAAC's Inclusion Initiative Just Keeps on Winning
By earning the first-ever NCAA Division III Diversity Spotlight Initiative award, PLU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) has received its highest-profile recognition yet for its focus on inclusion—and it’d already received quite a bit.
The NCAA’s new award recognizes and promotes outstanding diversity-related projects, programming and initiatives on Div. III campuses and conferences. Each month, one institution or conference receives $500 toward its next diversity initiative.
In addition to the monetary award, NCAA Div. III posted a story about SAAC on its website on Sept. 2 and announced the award on social media.
“Receiving this award means so much to SAAC and our athletic department,” SAAC President Amy Wooten said. “We strive to make our campus and community a safe and inclusive place, and receiving this award only solidifies that we are making strides in the right direction.”
The group’s award-winning initiative focused on the theme that everyone is a welcome member of the athletics department and teams, regardless of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.
It previously had earned a Quigg Award for Excellence and Innovation from PLU. In May, SAAC’s scene in PLU’s Tunnel of Oppression, which, in partnership with Special Olympics, focused on the derogatory use of the word "retard(ed)," was selected as the Outstanding Tunnel of Oppression Scene by PLU's Diversity Center and received the award at the Spirit of Diversity Awards.
PLU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
Honored as Organization of the Year
Pacific Lutheran University’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) was recognized as PLU’s Organization of the Year at this year’s Celebration of Leadership. SAAC is an organization comprised of representatives from each of PLU’s 19 varsity athletic teams, who volunteer their time to serve as a leader and voice of their respective team.
This year, SAAC dedicated its efforts to the theme of inclusion, with projects focusing on unity among the Athletics Department, the university and the surrounding community. Many of the topics covered, specifically LGBTQ inclusion in athletics and the Tunnel of Oppression “R-word” scene, have challenged SAAC representatives to ask some questions about their values and their behaviors.
“Our goal was to focus on how we could become better members of the PLU community,” said SAAC President Amy Wooten. “SAAC wanted to make sure our student-athletes were embracing inclusion within their teams and across our university. We strive to make sure everyone feels welcomed and comfortable among our department.”
Recently, SAAC joined the You Can Play movement with the release of a video featuring PLU student-athletes and their positive stance on inclusion regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. The You Can Play project is a nationwide initiative dedicated to ensuring equality and respect for all athletes without regard to sexual orientation. It seeks to challenge the culture of locker rooms and spectator areas by focusing only on an athlete’s skills, work ethic and competitive spirit.
Universities, professional sports organizations and celebrities alike have joined the You Can Play movement via video contributions that let athletes and fans know that LGBT athletes are welcome on their teams, in their locker rooms and in the stands. PLU’s SAAC took the You Can Play message one step further, including in its video.
To accompany the release of PLU’s You Can Play video and its message, SAAC hosted Hudson Taylor, the executive director and founder of Athlete Ally, in February. Taylor, a three-time All-American wrestler out of the University of Maryland, spoke on becoming a champion for inclusion on campus. This topic is part of Athlete Ally’s overall mission, which involves working toward ending homophobia and transphobia in sports by educating allies in the athletic community and empowering them to take a stand.
“Messages like Hudson’s demonstrate how we can support each other as members of PLU and how we can make our campus a better place,” ASPLU President and member of the Queer Ally Student Union Sarah Smith said.
Taylor spoke to an audience of more than 300 PLU students on how each individual student can actively put an end to homophobia across campus and homophobic stereotypes in the locker room.
Smith attended with other members of QASU and commented that the group appreciated SAAC’s efforts to create a more inclusive campus and bridge the gap between athletics and the student body.
Taylor also highlighted the positive impact that a student-athlete’s actions and words can have on his or her teammates to ultimately foster a safe space within the locker room and on the playing field.
“Many of my teammates have said that they would not have a problem if a teammate were gay, but that speaking out against others that were opposed would be harder to do,” PLU football student-athlete Blake Petersen said. “In the end, it's all about everyone having an equal opportunity, and I think that is much more important than being uncomfortable speaking up to your fellow teammates.”
SAAC also sponsored a scene within this year’s Tunnel of Oppression, in which participants are taken on guided tours of various exhibits that depict issues of oppression in society.
In conjunction with its partnership with Special Olympics, SAAC developed its Tunnel of Oppression scene around the derogatory use of the word “retarded” in casual conversation. The scene depicted how the “R” word is used commonly in everyday life and the impact the usage of the word has on people with intellectual disabilities. This aimed to send the message that it’s always necessary to be mindful of language used.
SAAC’s most recent inclusion effort is the “You Matter” poster campaign that was rolled out in mid-April. The campaign features phrases such as “Equality Matters” and “Respect Matters” to communicate that every individual in PLU’s student body matters to the overall PLU community.
“The main question we centered our mission around was, ‘How can Athletics expect support if we aren't supporting others?’” Wooten said. “It was from that question that we tailored all of our projects in order to express that Support Matters.”
The poster campaign was developed by and features PLU SAAC representatives from every sport and is displayed across campus.