Columbus, Ohio – On Wednesday night Ohio State Athletics kicked off its first event of its equality program with a Q&A panel for all student athletes, coaches, and administration to learn about resources available to student athletes. The panel was hosted two hours prior of tipoff of the women’s basketball game vs. Penn State. As the players on the court sported ‘equality’ t-shirts, other athletes from across many different teams learned what the word equality meant for them.
On the panel, three guest speakers shared the spotlight to answer questions, share stories, and inform students of different resources available. The panel was comprised of, Karen Alsbrooks, executive director of organizational development at Ohio State and former student-athlete, Gretchen Metzelaars, senior associate vice president of student life, and Alana Jochum, attorney and executive director of Equality Ohio.
Ohio State athletic director, Gene Smith started the Q&A by asking how the athletic department can achieve an environment that athletes are comfortable with owning their sexuality. Smith went on to say, “I don’t believe in creating a checklist of things to do, I believe in creating culture, an accepting culture.” The panelist’s response carried a main theme of educating staff and coaches of terms and how to conduct a safe space full of trustworthy individuals. “Trust is the foundation of everything” explained Jochum.
The panel introduced ideas and concepts of establishing and building an environment that makes comfortability and possibility. Metzelaars described equality as, “equality isn’t that everyone has a pair of shoes to wear, but a pair that actually fits them.” The resources at Ohio State were uncovered one by one as students learned that Ohio State health insurance is available to cover hormones, you can choose any preferred name as your student ID, and that there are sixteen different student organizations on campus that focus on the LGBTQ community. Ohio State is one of the top 25 in the country for LGBTQ students and holds that title with pride.
Alsbrooks, shared details of the office of diversity and inclusion and it’s safe space policies. She continued, “this university has more student organizations than any other university, based upon whatever you’re passionate about and if there is not an organization that reaches your kind of equality, well then you can create it and we will fund it.”
The floor opened up to student athletes to ask questions and provide input, as one student asked, “what are signs in a teammate to know they need help, or need to be reached out to and checked on?” The sincere concern and willingness to help was present in the room as athletes from many different fields spoke about wanting to make their teammates feel welcome, safe, and included.
The session wrapped up by asking students and coaches where the equality program should go next. Events, talks, small groups, or big meetings, what works best for them and what do they want to see in order for this to make a difference.
“If you have an idea or want something, we serve you and we will do our best to make that happen. This is a part of sports. Equality is a part of athletics. Keep this conversation going, for this is the culture that Gene Smith leads” said Associate Athletic Director Shaun Richard as he wrapped up the formal part of the meeting.