By Cathryn Lucas
On the first weekend of April, the Midwest experienced winter’s last gasp. The swirling winds and blizzard-like conditions created just the right atmosphere for scholars and practitioners to stay inside come together for the Social Justice through Sport and Exercise Psychology Symposium at Bowling Green State University. The Symposium mission is to
bring together sport and exercise psychology researchers and practitioners whose work focuses on social justice and praxis, marginalized communities, participants lacking scholarly attention, or that falls outside the positivist mainstream of sport psychology. A main purpose of this symposium is to bring together people passionate about these issues so that we can share our work as well as support and encourage each other.
Over the course of two days, we participated in a variety of presentations, workshops, and panel discussions. This structure, along with the guidance of the organizing committee, encouraged interaction and discussion, resulting in many energizing and generative moments.
If, dear reader, you are wondering why a report on a Sport & Exercise Psychology Symposium is here on a Sport History blog, please read on!
While the Symposium was built around and for sport & exercise psychologists, the focus on social justice brought a variety of scholars and practitioners together. The focus on social justice also pushed back against current trends in sport & exercise psychology – namely a narrowing of the field(s) to high performance mental skills training. The aim of the Symposium was to open space for scholars and practitioners doing different work; work that helps coaches & student athletes see themselves as agents of social change, work that provides structure and support for women exiting prison, work that engages in community-led projects, work that critiques high performance models of sport.
These kinds of projects, loosely collected under the title Cultural Sport & Exercise Psychology (CSEP), take the cultural and historical context into account. Indeed, CSEP scholars argue that it is necessary to take cultural and historical contexts into account when developing research, teaching, and/or practice. Tamar Semerjian, the director of the Silicon Valley Health Aging Partnership (SVHAP), shared the following experience: SVHAP works closely with community partners to develop fall prevention programming. SVHAP developed a flyer with tips and guidelines. In collaboration with community partners, they decided that making the flyer into a dinner placemat would be the most useful way to provide information. This worked great for elderly communities who know English, but one of the communities they work with is the Vietnamese community and majority of elderly Vietnamese people they work with do not speak English. So, SVHAP translated all the flyers and reprinted the placemats. Unfortunately, many of those same community members cannot read. So, the good idea for placemats turned out to not be a good intervention for that particular community. Semerjian uses this anecdote to underscore the importance of understanding cultural and historical contexts with both her students and other community partners.
Throughout the Symposium, many people shared their experiences of learning about cultural and historical contexts. Over the course of the weekend, it became clear that we must develop what Angela Davis calls integrative analyses: analyses that account for a range of issues and multiple forms of oppression. The Symposium began with an interactive plenary session adapted from Iris Marion Young’s Five Faces of Oppression. We were challenged to the think about the ways that oppression works in sport, exercise, and physical activity settings through exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. We explored the interconnectedness of these oppressive forces. The plenary set the tone for the weekend where we sat with uncomfortable and/or painful topics in order to develop new intersectional strategies for justice oriented work.
In order to develop integrative analyses, we must have intersectional academic training. Panels and presentations addressed issues of developing research methodologies, teaching strategies, and practical interventions. As Heather Barber argued, academic training is an invitation to explore ideas and develop the language to articulate complex and interconnected topics. Hannah Bennett discussed the importance of meeting students where they are, and Leeja Carter shared strategies for developing a democratically run classroom. They both concluded that the classroom is a place for students to explore their thoughts and develop connections through reflective, interactive, and supportive activities. These discussions pair well with teaching posts on this blog, which you can read here.
Likewise, coaches and fitness leaders have the opportunity to build life-long habits. Diane Whaley asked which ones do we want to support? Several scholars are in the process of developing democratic & social justice driven practices. Nicole LaVoi & Anna Baeth are working on Socially Responsible Coaching, Diane Williams uses bell hook’s engaged pedagogy to envision an engaged coaching, John McCarthy had high school students develop daily workout logs that also account for interpersonal relationship building and empathetic social interactions, and Missy Wright from the Center for Sport & Social Justice discussed how re-visioning competition can create socially inclusive physical activity spaces.
Because of their applied practice, sport & exercise psychologists have been thinking about how to develop these kinds of publicly engaged practices longer than many academic disciplines. With the recent turn to public engagement across the academy, sport & exercise psychology scholarship can teach us about developing publicly engaged research and how to build mutually beneficial community partnerships. These are important and timely discussions for sport history, sport studies, kinesiology, and sport management as we find our departments on the chopping block and/or face an increasingly business oriented academic world. In the recently posted President’s Forum, Jamie Schultz discusses the future of Sport History as an academic field. Next month at the NASSH conference, there will be both pre and post conference workshops where participants will explore digital humanities and sport for development respectively. The theme of this year’s NASSS Conference is Publicly Engaged Sociology of Sport.
The short answer is that public engagement is really hard work. Universities often want small, easily marketed service trips or one-day events — not the long, complicated processes of developing community relationships. Meredith Whitley and Peggy Reuss-McCann discussed the challenges they face in cultivating relationships because these kinds of scholarship are truly a praxis. Research, teaching, and service must come together in a way that is oriented toward social justice. We must grapple with theoretical, methodological, ethical, and logistical issues. Community partners must drive the partnership. We must recognize the power that we have as researchers and work to make the process as equitable as possible.
All of our histories are partial, complicated, and contextual. Vikki Krane and Tucker Ready shared how they had to create different versions of their histories depending on the academic context. For Tanya Prewitt-White, sharing her story allowed others the space to share their stories and together they worked through issues of racial difference. In order to develop a social justice praxis, we must look inward first to examine our power and privilege. Then, we can then look to see where we can use our power & privilege to work toward social justice. For some of us, that will mean exploring topics often overlooked. For some of us, that will mean working to create different classroom experiences than we have previously. For some of us that will mean creating or joining interdisciplinary community partnerships.
History is an important part of social justice, both concretely and conceptually. Concretely, as a topic of study, we can understand histories of oppression and institutionalization. Conceptually, we can explore processes of doing history and many ways to write/perform/embody them. We can grapple with the question what is sport history? In doing so, we can also think expansively and creatively about what sport history could be.
This too is a partial history. I’ve tried to work in as many presentations as I could. I would be remiss to acknowledge all the people not named in this post. The conference was truly a collaborative effort and everyone was influential to the discussions. I’m happy to continue the conversation in the comments!
Cathryn Lucas is a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa. Cathryn works toward social justice praxis through integrated research, teaching, and personal training. Cathryn can be contacted at Cathrynfirstname.lastname@example.org or @cathryn_lucas