Photo by Josh Wenger/Nebraska Communications

Inclusion Summit Proved to Be Life Changing

By NU Athletic Communications

On Sunday evening, Nebraska student-athletes arrived on the third floor of Memorial Stadium for a Diversity and Inclusion Summit sponsored by NU’s Life Skills department. On a rainy weekend night, with homework to be done, studying to do and two NFL Playoff games going on, it might not have been at the top of a student’s “Places to Be” list.

“You walk in and all of the chairs were lined up in rows and, I’m not going to lie, immediately I thought, ‘Great, they’re going to pull out a speaker, they’re going to talk to us for an hour and a half, I’m probably going to get distracted. I’ll listen and then I’ll get up and leave and then that’s it,’” soccer player Savanah Uveges said.

But keynote speaker Dr. Derek Greenfield had a different plan in store and the night turned out to be like nothing they had expected.

“Right away, Dr. Greenfield said, ‘Get away from your teammates. Go find somebody you don’t know. Sit down and talk to them.’ Then we were making groups. We were turning the chairs and making circles and connecting with people you don’t know.” Uveges said.

After some ice-breaking activities to ease students in, the conversation took a more serious tone.

Students shared stories from their past and personal struggles. One girl told the group about her social anxiety that few people knew about. She was immediately surrounded by a mosh pit of friends and teammates. Another young man talked about how, at five-years-old, he watched his brother die from a drive-by shooting and how he honors his brother’s memory by playing his sport.

“Once we all broke that seam – we’re not all perfect, we all battle with things – it’s almost like we were able to trust each other.” Uveges said. “It was a cool community we built within thirty minutes with people we didn’t know. It was awesome.”

Another activity consisted of students standing up if a statement applied to them. One statement – “Stand if you have every seriously considered suicide or intentionally hurting yourself” – had a handful of students out of their seats and observers in tears.

After each statement, or after each student spoke about their experiences, the scene afterwards was special, as peers rushed to support their teammates and friends.

“After, it was really eye-opening noticing particular teammates…standing up and expressing [their] pain,” football player Mohammed Barry said. “I take that really seriously. I have to be more aware of my teammates. [There’s a teammate] feeling like he’s not a part of the team. That’s something big too. I have to be more aware and our team in general has to be aware.”

Uveges agreed.

“I spend so much time with my teammates and I thought I couldn’t know more about them,” she said. “I thought I knew everything and seeing how many of my teammates stood up about struggles. I spend that much time with you and I never took the time to ask…We need to make that community where we can trust each other fully. We do always preach that [our team is] our family, but what does it really mean to be family?”

As one of the students who participated, Ryan Bates (track and field) said,  “I feel fulfilled and I feel a contentment that comes with being who you are. I think the really big message you have to take from this night is for yourself to not be afraid to say what you need to say, to be open and being more true to yourself.”

Afterwards, one team met to continue discussion. Another team’s leaders got together to discuss ways to implement changes. Barry plans to immediately take what he learned back to the football locker room.

“[We have to have] talks and team meetings, too,” Barry said. “I’m a really big advocate on having those close talks. I think it’s important and makes you actually feel like a team – to be real about each other, real about raw emotions. If we don’t get close like that, you won’t see that comradery on the field and you won’t see that brotherly love that the fans love to see. It has to be real. We have to love each other. We have to know everything about each other and that’s the only way it’s going to happen.”

Greenfield explained to the students how impactful teams and sports can be, saying “the power of sports is you can literally save lives. Your teammates have your back. You can be a lifesaver.” And on Sunday night, Greenfield showed Nebraska student-athletes exactly how it does.

Nebraska student-athletes who are looking for psychological services, please contact Brett Haskell (bhaskell@huskers.com) or Brett Woods (bwoods@huskers.com). For more information on psychological services at UNL, please visit click here.

Note: Due to the sensitivity of the matter, some student-athlete’s names have intentionally been omitted.

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