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Embracing Inclusion

Embracing Inclusion

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – More than once, Corey Jones looked up and soaked in the moment.

There had been a time where an event like this one likely wouldn’t have happened, at Miami or on many college campuses elsewhere, for that matter. But on this evening it did and Jones, a captain on the Hurricanes cheer team, was part of it.

The senior, along with swimmer Sydney Knapp, had the opportunity Thursday to serve as one of two student-athlete moderators during the University of Miami Athletic Department’s inaugural Pride Panel, one of a series of Pride events being held at Miami this week.

The event – which also featured speakers RaShauna Hamilton, the Senior Director of Community Relations & Youth Programs for the Miami Dolphins and Caitlin Smith, an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at Miami – featured an honest and candid discussion about a number of important topics related to LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports at both the college and professional level.

And both student-athlete moderators said they were encouraged to see a number of their teammates, coaches, fellow student-athletes and department staffers in attendance.

Their hope? That everyone walked away from the evening with a bit more understanding of the need for diversity and inclusion in sports.

“I think it was so important to me. I’ve had teammates in the past who felt like they weren’t supported,” Jones said. “To know that we’re moving along in that transition to support everyone and be inclusive is just so good to see. In the past, we didn’t have Athlete Ally. We didn’t have a Pride Panel. This is the first Pride Panel we’ve had. The fact that we’re actually doing that is just really good, to get other students comfortable, especially in athletics…one of the questions we discussed was how we can destigmatize LGBTQ+ in sports, because there’s such a taboo with those two situations together and there shouldn’t be, at all…Athletics is something we love and we’re passionate about and the same thing about your identity. That’s something you should be passionate about and you should be able to express yourself no matter what you’re doing or what part of life you’re in.”

Added Knapp, “I think it’s incredible that we’ve finally reached a point where we not only can talk about being allies or being part of the LGBTQ+ community but that we are about it. We’re starting these conversations. We’re opening up rooms. We’re having the Pride football game. We’re acknowledging it on such a large scale that you can just see the steps that are being taken. Obviously, we talked about it today – there’s a ways to go and we can’t discredit that by any means…when I started here, these conversations did not exist. To be able to have seen this progress since I’ve been here is just incredible.”

Corey Jones, a member of Miami's cheer team, helped moderate a Pride Panel last month as part of his work with UM's chapter of Athlete Ally, an affinity group for LGBTQ+ student-athletes and allies.

Among some of the topics discussed Thursday were how Hamilton and Smith grew to feel comfortable sharing their identities with family, friends and colleagues; how each has handled negativity when they’ve encountered it, the importance of pronouns, the need to address body dysmorphia issues in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond, how workplaces can be more inclusive and how to become better allies to LGBTQ+ friends, family members and colleagues.

And both Hamilton and Smith shared the advice they’d give themselves if they had the opportunity to go back and speak to their college selves.

“I think it’s important to be part of opportunities like this because this really is the next generation. These students are leaders, whether they’re allies or part of the community,” said Hamilton, a former basketball player at George Mason. “They’re going to be the ones to make it better for the next group of student-athletes…For me, it was no problem, no issue to come down here and spend time with these student-athletes, especially because the ones that are here are the ones that really want to help make a change. I was super excited to be part of this. And I think the fact the room was full is a testament to the Miami community…the University of Miami community. And also, it means a lot for where we’re headed. The fact so many students showed up, I think, means it matters to people and people are ready to stand up for their own identities and build allies in their communities.”

Added Smith, “For me, I wish we would have stuff like this in college. I think it would have made my experience a lot easier, better. So, I wanted to potentially be that for someone else.”

Also Thursday as part of the department’s Pride efforts, Miami’s women’s soccer team hosted its annual Pride Game. The Hurricanes football team will do the same Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.

And at Miami, the hope is events like all of these will continue.

“We want to ensure our LGBTQ+ student-athletes and staff feel included and valued. I think intentional conversations, compassion, and being authentic with people within our athletic department will help us grow in our acceptance and understanding of each other. I think this is a great first step in getting there,” said Shirelle Jackson, Miami’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Development.  “We’re not there yet, but we’re taking purposeful steps to get there.”