Sport is often seen as a vehicle for inclusion in bringing diverse groups together, but in some instances, it can also alienate marginalized populations.
A new Brock University student-led initiative called Sport Helps Everyone Make Allies (SHEMA) aims to empower women and diverse social groups in the sport industry through fostering an inclusive, accepting and supportive environment for students in the Sport Management (SPMA) program.
Originally scheduled to launch in March, SHEMA, ratified by the Brock University Student Union (BUSU), had to postpone plans due to COVID-19.
Now, with virtual Convocation approaching, the group is hosting a live, open discussion on the initiative’s Instagram account Wednesday, June 17 at 4 p.m. to engage with graduating students and allies about equity in the sport industry in response to major events going on in the world, including, COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and Pride Month.
Third-year SPMA students Hannah Gougeon and Mackayla Petrie began mobilizing a group of like-minded students after being inspired by the gender and equity topics they explored while attending Brock’s Centre for Sport Capacity’s (CSC) 2019 Women in Sport and Leadership Forum, which took place last November.
“The keynote speaker said, ‘If you don’t have a table, make a table,’ and it really resonated,” says Petrie. “Hannah and I… We realized we needed to take action.”
Both Gougeon and Petrie have experienced similar challenges as a result of the notable gender imbalance in the field of sport management, and hope SHEMA will help contribute to making a positive cultural change.
Dawn Trussell, Associate Professor of Sport Management, says that disproportionate numbers of women pursuing a career in the field can cause them to feel excluded.
“What we are seeing here mirrors society,” said Trussell. “Sport remains a space dominated by hyper-masculinities and sexism. The students are disrupting and taking action to change the exclusionary culture of sport.”
Over the past few months, SHEMA has been actively building an infrastructure to enable them to take proactive steps towards creating a more inclusive and equitable program environment.
“As women, we know we’re outnumbered, but as we began to have discussions last winter, more students who have felt marginalized began to speak up too,” said Gougeon. “With the current climate of social activism, it is imperative we provide a safe space for graduates and students to have a say on pressing events in the world and how it is impacting them.”
In planning the strategic direction of SHEMA, an emphasis on allyship became an important area of focus, particularly as students talked about suggestions to improve their experiences as a minority.
“SHEMA wants to equip students with the necessary tools to feel safe and respond to situations whereby an individual may be feeling marginalized or in need of an ally,” said third-year SPMA student Sullivan Murphy. “We really want to be a catalyst for providing support and encourage fellow students to adjust their behaviours in order to make our program an inclusive environment for all.”
These ideas were explored further at SHEMA’s first public event which took place at the eighth Annual Sport Management Alumni Day earlier in February, prior to physical distancing measures. Activities included an information booth which engaged students during key networking times, a workshop and a presentation during the evening social.
“SHEMA was met with tremendous support from faculty, alumni and students,” said Petrie. “More than 35 students have signed up to support the initiative and some alumni have offered to come back to share industry expertise and facilitate knowledge sharing.”
As SHEMA grows, future initiatives will incorporate models of peer-to-peer support to foster inclusion, a volunteer orientation day and creating experiential opportunities for students.
“We know that change and social inclusion is created through interpersonal contact and shared understanding,” said Trussell. “It’s all about relationship building, something SPMA prides itself on as we develop future sport industry leaders.”
Join SHEMA and graduating SPMA students Kaitlyn Lehbert and Vince Capano, out-going President SPMA Council on the SHEMA Instagram account Wednesday, June 17 at 4 p.m. for an open discussion. Students, alumni and allies welcome.