Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society and the state of Massachusetts have recently partnered on a new initiative to address hate and build a healthy, inclusive culture in school sports.
It was recently announced that Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society was chosen to partner with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association ( MIAA), the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the Massachusetts School Administrators Association (MSAA), along with a host of other educational and non-profit stakeholders to conduct a series of 13 regional statewide trainings to help superintendents, principals, and athletic directors prevent and address hate and bias in school sports. The trainings began in March 2023, and are being delivered in a two-day facilitation curricular format at various locations across the state. The trainings are open to all school districts at no cost to attendees.
“People turn to us because we have a 39-year history of credibility in the training space specific to helping people embrace skill sets and toolkits to prevent violence, unpack unconscious bias and stop the proliferation of toxic speech,” explained Dan Lebowitz, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern. “We, at Sport in Society engage people in the conversations requisite to embrace their change agency to effect and sustain a culture of inclusive empowerment. In essence, through our trainings we provide people a pathway to walk the walk of doing real work, with and for real people, that leads to real outcomes with respect to creating a positive, normative culture for themselves and the communities in which they live.”
These current trainings are the next phase of “Addressing Hate in School Sports,” which began with a statewide conference in 2022, after an uptick in reported bullying, harassment, and hazing incidents across Massachusetts. The initiative spearheaded by Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell is designed to provide for the equity and well-being of children by combatting bullying and harassment in schools. By engaging people through their dialogic pedagogy, Sport in Society, helps to empower school superintendents, principals, athletic directors, coaches, and other school personnel with the tools they need to address hate and to build a healthy, inclusive culture in school sports.
“Our pedagogy, our curriculum, and our safe-space approach are all designed to help vested stakeholders create the positive normative change that is equitable, inclusive, and impactful. We never enter a space or approach the work with a lens of legislating behavior, we want to create a safe space where we can facilitate a conversation and help drive change,” said Lebowitz. “We are a social impact entity that strives each day to create engagement, empowerment, and true collective betterment.”
This includes equipping participants with real-life techniques on how to identify, respond to, and eradicate unconscious bias and toxic speech. To achieve this, the Center will incorporate a “train the trainer” model, with the goal of equipping attendees with the skills and understanding necessary to embrace and learn the curriculum and bring it back to their districts to embed it within their school culture.
Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society
Founded in 1984, the Center uses sport as a social justice platform to make the world a better place by supporting athletes, organizations, and emerging leaders.
“These issues aren’t endemic to a particular community, it’s an epidemic in our larger society,” adds Lebowitz, who sees the role of the Center and Northeastern as powerful change agents. “I believe that Northeastern is an incredible social impact institution,” explained Lebowitz, “and part of what makes us impactful is we’re able to embrace the communities in which we live and help the people who live there to meet their own challenges with the wealth of their lived experience.”
In an age of heightened political divisiveness, and with the Center’s primary curricular focus on the importance of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), Lebowitz understands that initially, some participants may enter the space of training with hesitancy. But given the keen expertise of the Center’s trainers, the response of the participants statewide has been overwhelmingly positive, and school districts have been clamoring for more training not less.
“I received an email from someone who attended a recent training, and they said they went into the room on the first day with a reluctance that measured a “negative five”. Essentially, they didn’t want to engage at all around the subject area of DEI,” recalls Lebowitz. “Yet, once they were immersed in the safety room that the trainers create, they were full and active participants and they said they left the training registering a “positive 10”.” They and their school district have since asked for additional training.
It is this individual impact, by someone simply showing up to learn, that the Center and Lebowitz believe can create systemic, sustainable change.
Lebowitz remains reverent of the amazing global platform of Northeastern and CPS. “At the end of the day, if we didn’t have champions, we would just be an entity with a cause,” notes Lebowitz. “It is the championship of Northeastern and CPS that empowers us to effect change, engage with the people we impact, and allows all the partners and stakeholders we reach in our trainings to open themselves to the possibilities and discover the intellectual promise that positive change holds – that’s the impact that really matters.”
In addition to this new partnership, the Center for the Study of Sport in Society has developed a curriculum and delivered training to Major League Baseball, for the NFL, at the South African World Cup, to every branch of the US military, for the NFLPA, to every major college conference, to police departments, community groups, and non-profits, to over 140 high schools in Massachusetts in partnership with the Attorney General and the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation, and to hundreds of other high schools; locally, nationally, and internationally.
Click here to learn more about the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, and how you can become involved. https://www.northeastern.edu/sportinsociety/about/