Sports are more than just a game. Sports are a platform for change. There are many people who want to make a difference when it comes to how athletes are seen in the public eye. Athletes are human and sometimes they are not seen that way. Follow along to see how a diversity and inclusion advocate, who grew up in Germany and came over to the United States for graduate school, wants to make a difference. Dr. Yannick Kluch, an assistant professor for sports communication and media at Rowan University, also is the Lead Faculty Consultant on Social Impact for Rowan’s Center for Sports Communication & Social Impact. Dr. Kluch has always been passionate about bringing people together and interested in learning about people with different backgrounds, but it was not until he moved to Bowling Green, Ohio, where he realized how big of an impact he could make. He got his master’s and doctorate degree from Bowling Green State University. His master’s degree was focused on social justice, cultural studies, and issues related to diversity and inclusion. Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Dr. Kluch noticed how big sports were on the Division 1 Bowling Green campus. He immediately fell in love with the sports culture in the small Northwest Ohio town, partly because growing up in Germany high schools and colleges rarely offer competitive sports as part of their extra-curricular activities. After about two years of embracing how big sports are on American college campuses, he decided to tie his passion for sports and passion for diversity and inclusion to strive for change.
Bowling Green was a very transformative experience for Dr. Kluch. He grew up in Germany and knew he wanted to do his master’s degree abroad, looked at programs all over the country, and eventually decided Bowling Green State University was the best fit for him. Dr. Kluch says that studying at Bowling Green led to “some of the best years of his life” – it was here where he was able to find his passion and purpose. At the University, Dr. Kluch saw how big sports were and wanted to use the power of sport to strengthen the sense of community and promote diversity and inclusion on campus, which is where the idea for the We Are One Team (WA1T) initiative was born. We Are One Team is a campus-wide initiative that uses the power of sport on campus to promote diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Dr. Kluch said “it started as a passion project on the side when I was getting my doctorate to keep me sane, but it kind of took off and the athletics department was very responsive, the community was excited about it, and it caught a lot of attention from a lot of people across the country.” Perhaps most importantly, the first-of-its-kind initiative caught the attention of the NCAA national office and ended up winning the 2017 NCAA Award for Diversity and Inclusion, which is the biggest award offered by the NCAA for Diversity and Inclusion. That award allowed the work that Dr. Kluch and his friends were working on to be seen on a national platform. Winning the award made Dr. Kluch realize that doing diversity and inclusion work can be a career in sport. Given that he saw a need for more sports organizations to do effective diversity and inclusion work, Dr. Kluch accredits the start of We Are One Team as the launching pad of his career.
It was not surprising, then, that the launching of We Are One Team, and the national success that came with it, led Dr. Kluch to his position after graduation. After he completed his doctorate he was offered a position in the highly competitive NCAA postgraduate internship program, a premier internship program at the NCAA National Office that annually accepts roughly 30 interns out of over 3000 applicants. Dr. Kluch was offered the only inclusion position in the program, so he spent a year working in the Office of Inclusion at the National Office in Indianapolis, where he was able to take the lead on multiple national diversity and inclusion initiatives, most notably the inaugural NCAA Diversity and Inclusion Social Media Campaign that reached over 68 million people on Twitter alone. His work at the NCAA ultimately led him to his current position at Rowan University, where he serves as an assistant professor in the Sports Communication and Media (Sports CaM) program, drives strategic inclusion initiatives in the university’s athletics department, and co-leads Rowan’s Center for Sports Communication & Social Impact as the lead faculty consultant on social impact.
Listen below to hear about how Dr. Yannick Kluch talks about how being a student-athlete is just one part of their identity and that the topics of diversity, inclusion, and mental health in sport need to be addressed more.
The campus wide initiative We Are One Team is set to launch at Rowan University in fall of 2020. Dr. Yannick Kluch and his student leaders have been working hard to prepare for the launch. Student leaders include: Thomas Cardona, Kayla Santiago (myself), Austin Jones, Alexandria Brooks and Rebecca Sulzbach.
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