Student-athletes reflect on diversity and inclusion in the athletic department

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From left: Junior cross-country and track runner Victor Yegon, sophomore cross-country and track runner Susie Poore, junior cross-country runner Matt Kravitz, sophomore track and field sprinter Kaja Skerlj and senior cross-country runner Samuel Layding. They, along with the rest of the Lehigh athletic community, participated in the SAAC Diversity and Inclusion Campaign. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

The Lehigh athletic community participated in a Diversity and Inclusion Social Media Campaign from Oct. 1- Oct. 5.

The program, which aimed to promote healthy and inclusive environments on athletic teams, was created by the Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Social media was used to create open discussion during the five-day campaign, which had a different theme each day.

The athletics community consists of student-athletes who possess many different identities.

“The (cross country) team has probably (been) the most supportive and open team environment I’ve ever been a part of,” said Sam Layding, a senior cross country runner and member of the LGBTQ+ community. “From the beginning of my Lehigh experience, I’ve never felt there was a need where anyone needed to be worried to be themselves.”

Layding said there are difficulties that come with being yourself, but his teammates and coaches have always been open-minded and accepting of people who are different. Layding said having diversity within the team brings members a lot closer together.

Fellow junior cross country runner Matt Kravitz, who is also a member of the LGBTQ+ community, gave similar praise to the inclusive environment of Lehigh sports teams.

“What Lehigh’s environment is — I can honestly say I haven’t faced one negative attitude about it and that’s something I’m really grateful for,” Kravitz said. “The crazy thing is I forget that I’m part of the LGBTQ+ community and I think that says the most out of anything.”

Kaja Skerlj, a sophomore from Slovenia on the track and field team, said living and competing in a foreign country has been a roller coaster, but her coaches have been helpful in supporting her transition.

“There’s nothing the same here as in Slovenia, so you kind of have to adapt to all of the changes,” Skerlj said.

She said her coaches have helped her become proficient in English and integrate into American culture.

Like Skerlj, Kip Yegon, a junior cross country and track runner from Bomet, Kenya, said culture differences can sometimes be an issue but knows that rising to the challenge is all a part of the experience.

Yegon said every so often, there is a lack of cultural understanding between him and his teammates. However, Yegon commends his teammates on their genuine interest in learning where he’s from. He said they often ask questions about African culture and politics, which shows that they care.

“I came here and already had a family in the form of the team,” Yegon said.

Being different, especially for an athlete, can sometimes create an underlying barrier within a team. Susie Poore, a sophomore cross country runner and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, said she sometimes feels like she has to prove herself.

Poore came out publicly with a fellow teammate in an article published on Outsports.com

“Behind every athlete there’s a story,” Poore said. “I wanted to be myself openly and prove to myself that I deserve happiness and that I deserve to be who I am.”

As a younger member of the cross country and track teams, Poore said she hopes to normalize diversity by talking openly about experiences and confronting language that is noninclusive.

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