Jen Fry , a nationally acclaimed speaker and social justice educator, led training sessions, discussion groups, and workshops on the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith campus Tuesday, encouraging conversation on diversity and inclusion in higher education and athletics.
Fry, an Arizona native, is a former Division II athlete and collegiate volleyball coach who coached within the PAC 12 and BIG 10. Following a career in college athletics, she turned her attention to social justice education after realizing crucial conversations needed to happen on college campuses, training student-athletes, university administrators, staff, and coaches on issues of race, inclusion, intersectionality, diversity, and equity.
“You have a school that’s really passionate,” said Fry after several hours of facilitating workshops and meeting with groups across the UAFS community. “A lot of people want to know how to be better, and I think that’s been awesome. People have been so involved, and instead of the hesitancy that you sometimes expect, everyone jumped right in. They were vulnerable and talked about what they learned and how they felt.”
“As a campus, I can see that people want to do more, and my hope is that when I come and talk I don’t come in and say ‘this is how you can be more diverse and inclusive,’ but, ‘here are the things that can stand in the way of that, and by acknowledging these things we can move forward,’ so participants leave with that focus. By seeing their blind spots and pairing good intent with recognition of those blindspots, the people and committees propelling change can help advance policies and procedures.”
Fry’s campus workshops included a session with UAFS Athletics administrators and coaches titled: How coaches can start to create an inclusive environment and understand biases; a session with the UAFS Athletics Committee on Diversity and Inclusion titled: Creating a brave space of inclusion; a forum with students in the Student Athletic Advisory Council; a session with the University Diversity and Inclusion Committee titled: Creating a brave space of inclusion; and a forum and workshop with the entire UAFS student-athlete population and coaching staff that covered inclusion, biases and cultural sensitivity.
“Having Jen Fry on campus as a facilitator and educator has helped us to have an informed dialogue about these important issues,” said UAFS Chancellor, Dr. Terisa Riley, who participated in a session working through Fry’s Social Justice Playbook with the University Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. “We sometimes need to be prompted out of our daily tasks and into being intentional about our institution. We have to take the time to assess our practices and evaluate how we ensure that this university is welcoming and inclusive for everyone.”
After speaking with campus groups, Fry joined the entire UAFS Athletics staff and all student-athletes for a workshop centered around examining their self-identity as deliberately as they examine their athletic skills.
During the workshop, student-athletes shared their stories with each other, asking honest, vulnerable questions and examining the implicit and explicit power structures in their lives. Fry discussed how everything from upbringing to birth order, gender to race, lived experiences to historical context, can shape the lenses through which people see themselves and each other, and guided the students through those important conversations as groups, as well as one-on-one.
“Even at the top of your game there’s work to be done,” Fry said to the nearly 200 student-athletes in the stands of the Stubblefield center. “You can be player of the year and still have work to do. You can be an All American and still have work to do.”
“Athletes watch a lot of film of themselves so they can become better players,” she explained. “I would like them to think just as critically about their identity so they can be better teammates – and sometimes being better teammates means being a little uncomfortable.”
“I know that resonated with our coaches and student-athletes,” said UAFS Athletic Director, Curtis Janz, “We know that we aren’t just preparing these students for the athletic teams they play on for four years, but the lives and careers they will build moving forward. This work will inform the way they become good teammates in their friendships, in their classrooms and in their workplaces, and that’s so important.”
Following her presentation, students and coaches thanked Fry, sharing heartfelt gratitude for her encouragement to have uncomfortable conversations, and the resources she provided to carry those conversations forward.
Fry specializes in assisting organizations, teams, staff, coaches, administrations, athletes, and educators in finding ways to have conversations on race, gender, diversity, inclusion, social justice education, power, privilege, and their effects on those within both marginalized and dominant communities. She is available to speak to groups at https://jenfrytalks.com.
Fry also hosts a YouTube series called Five Minutes with Fry, where she speaks to other experts in cultivating diverse communities and fostering inclusion in organizations of all types. Five Minutes with Fry is available at: https://jenfrytalks.com/category/five-minutes-with-fry/