Niagara Swimming DEI Committee Athletes Featured in USASwimming.org Article

Eric Stimson
Friday, February 19, 2021

Increasing Visibility for All in Swimming Through Local Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committees

 

  

Increasing Visibility for All in Swimming Through Local Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committees
 

When the Niagara Swimming Local Swimming Committee (LSC) put out a call for swimmers in the region to join their Athlete Committee, high schoolers Celeste Keyes, Katie Donaghue, and Bobby Diel applied. 

Once selected for the Athlete Committee, the trio was invited to join other committees that needed swimmer input. Keyes, Donaghue and Diel, all 17 years old, officially joined the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee in September. 

“Although this isn’t necessarily politics, I think it has a lot to do with the political side of society,” Keyes told USASwimming.org when asked why she wanted to get involved. “After the outbreak in June for the Black Lives Matter movement, I became a lot more invested in social issues and diversity in our sport. I found that this was an easy way to get involved and help my community.” 

Donaghue said swimming is a sport that has given her all of her best friends. In that spirit, she said, she was “looking for ways to make that sport more enjoyable for everybody. When I had the opportunity to be a part of the DEI Committee, I wanted to take that so I could make swimming better for everyone.” 

And for Diel, who additionally joined the Disability Committee with Donaghue, it was an opportunity to focus on the community aspect of swimming. 

“I’m just hoping to try to get swimming into areas where people might not have transportation, or the money, and try to make it more equitable for people who can’t do it otherwise,” he said. 

The DEI Committee chair, Mike Switalski, sends the committee weekly emails with articles, videos, and TED Talks, and other discussion materials. Those topics become ways to foster ideas for later projects, including developing a resource hub for other clubs to use in their own practice. They also want this hub to be accessible for athletes, too. 

Another way these weekly emails permeate the goals of the group has been the successful launch of Talking Circles. So far, two Talking Circles have taken place virtually, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, but there are plans for more in the future. 

“We started the Talking Circles in an effort to get conversations started and to help educate people,” Donaghue explained. 

At the first Talking Circle, which included about 20 participants, there was a brief introduction to diversity, equity and inclusion discussion topics followed by splitting into virtual breakout rooms. The DEI Committee’s athlete representatives guided the conversation, which lasted about 20 to 30 minutes, and then the group came back to review the conversation. 

At the second Talking Circle, participation doubled to about 40 participants made up of swimmers, parents, officials, and coaches. Switalski shared a few (anonymous) scenarios about challenges in diversity, equity, and inclusion from Niagara Swimming as well as nationwide. Then, participants split into breakout rooms to discuss if anyone could relate to the stories and ways to improve the situations. After about a half hour of dialog again guided by the athlete representatives, the participants returned to the full group to talk about their results and what they learned. 

Diel said that one of the learnings from his breakout room from the Talking Circle was that some swimmers feel as if they go to swim practice just to swim, without feeling a sense of community. 

“We’re trying to implement ideas with coaches on how to get their team more involved with each other and interactive – with maybe introducing new swimmers and taking time out of practice for that – or doing fun things outside of practice, organized by the team,” Diel said. 

Another takeaway from the Talking Circle is the possible implementation of a tip line where people could reach out if they witness problematic situations or need assistance confronting issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  

The idea for Talking Circles came from a similar setup at Maryland Swimming, which implemented a roundtable discussion to brainstorm other inclusion initiatives. Wade Atkins, the current DEI Committee chair, told USASwimming.org that his committee first got started hosting events a few years ago after brainstorming ways to be more inclusive to the transgender community, and then it expanded to cover more topics within the umbrella of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

“We put together a group with an athlete on the planning committee to set about how to hold an event that would lead to meaningful dialog with some specific goals and objectives,” Atkins said, while also noting that his in-person event purposefully had round tables. “We wanted to gather, through a process, the different various groups in our LSC that might be considered marginalized. Then, we wanted to try to identify barriers to bringing those people in and making them feel welcome and make them stay. Then, we wanted a third part to come out of that: what were actionable items that we could do to address the issues that we found from this group?” 

From their roundtables, they found topics to bring up at the national level and other concepts were brought up in workshops that they hosted.

Atkins has been a guest speaker at Niagara’s Talking Circles, but other guest speakers have included Maritza Correia McClendon, the first Black female swimmer to hold a world and American record, and Dr. Tiffany Monique Quash, the director of operations at the International Water Safety Foundation. 

If clubs want to implement similar Talking Circles or DEI Committees, Donaghue suggests looking at what other clubs have done – that’s how they started, too, she said. 

“We reached out to experts on the subject, and we really just asked them for ideas,” she said. “Then we came up with some ideas of our own, and put that together. If anyone is looking to do anything like this, they can definitely reach out. I think they should go for it. I think it’s something that’s extremely valuable.” 

Atkins echoed her sentiment. 

“It might not be easy, but we should all be listening and learning from each other,” he said. “I think the biggest barrier for the whole thing is between your right ear and your left ear. We overanalyze that it’s not going to go right, and then that analysis leads to paralysis – when we really just need to start a conversation.”