Sailor works with athletic department to improve LGBTQ inclusivity

Media Credit: Sabrina Godin | Assistant Photo Editor

The athletic department's sexual misconduct policy now applies to fans and anyone associated with the department, thanks to one athlete's efforts.

Senior sailor John DeRuff is working to improve inclusivity efforts for LGBTQ fans, student-athletes and coaches.

DeRuff worked this summer with Athlete Ally, an organization that aims to boost inclusivity for members of the LGBTQ community by evaluating athletic department policy and drafting reform. Over the summer, he helped the athletic department write a fan code of conduct, sexual misconduct policy and policy regarding transgender and gender-nonconforming student-athlete participation.

“Since publishing my coming out story on Out Sports exactly a year ago, I’ve been feeling more compelled to use the voice I have as an athlete and at a large school like GW to make some change in areas that I feel tied to, like athletic departments,” DeRuff said.

DeRuff joined the organization’s research team to create the 2020 Athletic Equality Index, which allots points to schools’ athletic departments based on their nondiscrimination policies, LGBTQ inclusive fan code of conduct and pro-LGBTQ equality campaign or statement. Each school receives a number out of 100.

Researchers like DeRuff were instructed to parse through schools’ conduct handbooks, policy manuals and other campus resources to find the outlined policies and practices – including that of GW’s. He said the University scored a 25 out of 100 because its policies aren’t readily available on the athletic department website.

“I took it in stride, but it was a little embarrassing because GW would have received, with what was already online, a 25 out of 100, which would have put us in like 11th place in the A-10 conference,” DeRuff said.

DeRuff said he contacted Athletic Director Tanya Vogel and Associate Athletics Director of Internal Operations John Square shortly after researching the department to discuss drafting policy changes. He said Square connected him with Sarah Vollaro, the senior program associate of student-athlete development, to draft new policy proposals based on successful practices from other schools.

After looking at the athletic department’s low score, DeRuff said he took action to remedy the three “big” policy areas the department fell short in – a fan code of conduct, policy accommodating to transgender student-athletes and sexual misconduct policy.

DeRuff said fans at GW sporting events were previously held to a conduct standard when attending games at home venues like the Smith Center but until this summer that standard was unknown. The new policy outlines prohibited actions, like homophobic or transphobic actions, that can result in a fan’s, coach’s, athlete’s or officials’ removal from the venue.

Even though GW was the first Division I school to have an openly transgender basketball player in its program, DeRuff said the school did not have a formal policy on transgender or gender-nonconforming student-athletes.

DeRuff said GW wanted to “lead the way” when drafting a policy to accommodate transgender and gender nonconforming athletes. The department’s new policy seeks to create a “safe, inclusive and welcoming” environment that aligns with NCAA rules for student-athletes who identify as transgender, the policy states.

The athletic department’s sexual misconduct policy lists seven prohibited forms of conduct, defines terms like sexual harassment and domestic violence, links to Title IX resources and provides both confidential and nonconfidential resources to report sexual misconduct. The policy was extended to apply to fans and anyone associated with the athletic department, DeRuff said.

DeRuff added that the athletic department should implement other educational initiatives, like a diversity and inclusion training. He said most athletic departments have an inclusion training for student-athletes and staff, but he would like to see the training expanded to include topics like learning cultural bias.

“If we continue to lead the field in this and actively seek to be the most educated, inclusive department there is, fellow athletic departments within D.C., like with Georgetown, American, Gallaudet, those schools are going to follow and that just broadens the reach and our impact,” he said.

Will Margerum contributed reporting.

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