There’s no question about it, UConn loves its sports. We invest in them, we support them and if you check our record books, we’re not half bad at them either.
UConn also values diversity. Look at UConn’s demographics, or just around campus, and this is recognizable. President Susan Herbst has prioritized it, forming a Task Force on Diversity, which was followed up by the University Diversity Council. She created a Chief Diversity Officer position; Joelle Murchison was named to the role about a year ago.
Lastly, even in the face of a budget crisis, the University has continued to support its students.
If a fantastic opportunity to mutually benefit all three came along, ostensibly everyone should be on board, right?
Yet on Feb. 23, the University declined to create a wheelchair basketball program in conjunction with the Ryan Martin Foundation. Martin, a Nutmeg native who has played professionally domestically and abroad, runs his foundation to create opportunities and support for disabled students and athletes. He approached the university last spring, helped in the formation of Husky Adapted (an adaptive sports club) on campus and pledged the resources of his foundation to help foster a full-fledged program here at UConn.
His commitment, which included $45,000 in fundraising from his foundation, was a way of creating a base level.
“The goal would be to support students with disabilities, an underrepresented and underserved population on campus with this program. The idea would be to allow the students to decide the direction of the program, with the support from their campus advisors. My goal was to provide equipment and funding. You can't start a swimming program on campus without a pool, hard to start adaptive sports program without proper equipment either,” said Martin, who was willing to take questions after his previously scheduled appearance last Wednesday in the “Beyond the Field” speaker series hosted by UConn Sport Management.
“You have current students with disabilities and future ones who deserve to have programming geared to them, just like every other UConn student. The law is clear on this if a student with disability requests it, legally you are obligated to provide accommodations to existing programs or create an equal alternative. The fact the student organization is established, [and] has hosted a few different events, rises to [the] level of a request. This is a simple 504 statute argument,” said Martin.
Martin and his student cohorts on campus have been working on the project for a considerable amount of time. The university’s rebuking was a real gut punch, and an unacceptable one in their eyes.
The resources were there, and the requisite movers and shakers were ready to make things happen.
“The program would have worked on campus because as an organization Husky Adapted was already receiving funding from the USOC, and had donors prepared to create endowment scholarships for potential student athletes,” said a closely involved source.
“To me it seemed like the school was behind it and supportive. I was very surprised when [Martin] came back and told us that it was denied,” Mitchell DuBuc, the treasurer of Husky Adapted, told the Courant.
“I was completely shocked by UConn's decision to not move forward with the process of creating an actual adapted sport program because of the support and recognition the organization (Husky Adapted) has gained this past year on campus from students as well as faculty,” another Husky Adapted executive board member said. “I was especially surprised because I've seen the large turnout for events, the well-known guest speakers, the organization mentioned in the Daily Campus as well as other Connecticut news outlets multiple times.”
Undoubtedly, the state and the university are incredibly cash strapped. But the decision is not necessarily just. Diversity is painted with a broad brush. While race and ethnicity capture most of the attention, diversity encompasses many scopes; age, ability, gender, experience and much more.
“In UConn's core values it says that the institution ‘appreciates differences in one another as well as similarities and aspire to be an increasingly inclusive educational institution that attracts, retains, and values talented people from all backgrounds,’” the e-board member said. ”However, with this decision I believe that being increasingly inclusive isn't something the university is doing, the statement just makes UConn look better in the eyes of the general public.”
In its rejection of the opportunity to grow and serve an underrepresented population, the administration has signaled where its priorities lie. Adapted and parasports rarely get the recognition, attention and love they deserve. UConn, which considers itself a progressive entity, could be a leader in this space. The optics would be a side bonus, but the chance to take initiative and set the tone is important. Martin is trying to grow the game within the CIAC, Connecticut’s interscholastic athletic body, giving opportunities to athletes across the state. Having the state’s flagship give the sport additional validity, as well as an opportunity to pursue a further athletic career, which would be tremendous for the movement.
“The program would have provided adapted athletes from the State of Connecticut the opportunity to attend their state school and have the opportunity to participate in sports. Instead, these student athletes will have to leave Connecticut and travel hours away to a completely different state for this opportunity,” involved stakeholders said.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.