Not everyone feels welcome in sports. This university fights diversity toxicity.

Sports programs are growing in universities across the country for their ability to attract and engage students – just like traditional sports.

But higher education serves all types of students, and the gaming community isn’t exactly known as a bastion of inclusiveness (remember Gamergate?). How can colleges create sports programs where everyone feels they can join?

Michael Cassens of the University of Montana has a solution. As director of university sports, he founded the program not with a view to winning tournaments, but with the ideals of diversity, equality and inclusion.

“Many sports teams – I don’t blame them at all – are highly competitive. I’m not against winning, I’m just not necessarily interested, “says Cassens, also an assistant assistant for games and interactive media. “I’m happy when our teams win and win the championship, but I’m more interested in how they do. What can we do to help you get through this time of life? ”

The reality is that very few of its 250 active student players will become professional players. But as Cassens sees it, everyone can benefit socially and academically from the community aspect of the sports program.

To hear his students say this strategy works.

Building an inclusive community

In interviews with 15 representatives of university sports programs published this summer, EDUCAUSE found that university leaders agreed that the best way to promote inclusion is to confront toxic gaming behavior directly.

At the University of Montana, Canyon sports player and art student Canyon Hardy says coaches and staff make it clear that any harassment will lead to students being excluded from the program. This is a departure from the gaming environment that Hardy, who uses their pronouns, was used to before joining the university team for Overwatch, a team shooter.

“The Overwatch community is not great. When I play with randos and [told] sexist things like, ‘Girls shouldn’t be allowed to play this game,’ “Hardy says.

Not so at the university, they add: “Personally, I feel very safe. I cannot speak for all the transgender people in the program, but it is very clear: ‘We will not send you away or tolerate hatred.’

Cassens’s approach to sports is based on a “radical welcome” where students feel good, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. Part of this includes growing teams that are not based on first-person shooters, which he says doesn’t always appeal to women. When the program was created by the Tetris team, five women joined.

“A woman who was a captain normally beat people by hundreds of thousands of points,” says Cassens. “It’s about meeting the players where they are and trying to realize, ‘What are your needs and how can we meet them?’

University sports teams also remove the financial barrier that students face when purchasing expensive gaming equipment that is needed at a competitive level. Cassens says the award is a common hurdle for teams that play at the club level.

“If you don’t have to worry and you can just come and play, it also makes you feel like, ‘I can be a part of it, too,’ he says.

Hardy, who has started coaching other Overwatch players, says one of the best things about the team is hanging out after training. Students spend Thanksgiving and Christmas together, and even the quiet players climbed out of their shells.

“We’re all really close friends now, and that’s the biggest thing we’ve all gotten out of the program,” says Hardy. “To have a place where we can all gather and have fun together.”

Courtesy of the University of Montana

Win-Win situation

As in traditional college sports, students in Cassens’s junior college and university sports teams must maintain their grades if they want to play. When employees tried to create an official mutual tutoring program, students said it was not necessary.

“They are just helping each other. When we were all at home, they still supported each other online, says Cassens.

In terms of return on investment, according to EDUCAUSE research, schools have stated that sports programs give students opportunities for social and leadership growth. As for universities, some found that high school students asked about their sports team by name during the application process.

Tessa Johnson, a sophomore in business, says she talked to Cassens about the sports program before she enrolled at the University of Montana. As a League of Legends player, she moved to the university team during the second semester.

“I think that makes me more confident.” In a game like League, you can’t call which are like, ‘I think maybe we can do it, but I don’t know,’ says Johnson, ‘because it will fall apart.’

Being on a team has one more advantage: It is a huge motivation for her to do well in class, even if the semester is difficult.

“Sometimes you say, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this, but all my friends are involved.’ I don’t want to leave,” says Johnson. Good grades.”

Cassens says he’s noticed that sports program leaders are thinking more about diversity, and that’s an encouraging trend. He doesn’t want any student to feel symbolized, but he says there is a lot of good that inclusive thinking can bring.

“If we get away from win-losing and we think more about ‘everyone wins if we just open the door’, what’s better?” says Cassens. “There’s so much more to life than” I’ve won the X Championship against someone. “

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