Set sail for change

RWU Sailing team highlights importance of discussion on inclusivity, diversity and equity


Courtesy of NEISA

The Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity (TIDE) committee has recently been introduced. Its purpose is to build diversity, equity and inclusion within the NEISA community.

Megan Julian, Sports Editor

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer and the killing of George Floyd, sailing teams from across the Commonwealth Coast Conference have decided to make some changes.

All 52 teams within the conference are part of the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Association (NEISA). Now each team is also a part of the TIDE Committee, which stands for The Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Committee.

The committee’s purpose is to build diversity, equity and inclusion within the NEISA community. Their mission statement says the following:

“NEISA TIDE is dedicated to fostering a culture of sailing that embraces and empowers all members of the NEISA community and creates an environment that supports the development of a diverse group of sailors. We are dedicated to doing this by expanding and building trust within the NEISA community in the following ways:

  • Building strong connections within teams and across NEISA
  • Engaging in critical dialogue and promoting inclusive language
  • Maintaining transparency in our initiatives to remain accountable to our goals
  • Expanding sailing opportunities for those traditionally unable to access the sport and expanding the recruiting pool
  • Reaching out to the community and facilitating mentorship opportunities”

Each university within the conference has to have a representative within the committee. Representatives are responsible for administering an education program within the university to their team. Sophomore George Higham on the sailing team is RWU’s representative.

The education program consists of a PowerPoint that the team will have a conversation about based on the information within the presentation. The topics could include race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity or citizenship status.

This past October, Higham had his first educational program on race. The team ended up having about an hour and a half long conversation about the information within the presentation regarding statistics captured through sailing. They also discussed different things that occur within their sport and how the team can use its platform to create a change.

“It was a lot of good dialogue between teammates… there was a conversation that needed to be had,” Higham said.

The representative is also required to do work for their subcommittee. The NEISA TIDE committee is broken down into three subcommittees: Education, community outreach and recruitment. Higham is a part of the community outreach subcommittee.

Right now, community outreach has been difficult for the teams due to COVID-19. When pandemic restrictions lessen, they hope they can get back on the water and do many different things.

“We’re looking to do in-person stuff with reaching out to members of our community, maybe bringing students in from local schools to come to practice and stuff like that. We’re really not 100% sure [what] we want to do in person yet, but we’re trying to get ideas for when we can,” Higham said.

One of the community outreach programs the team has been able to do is called a NEISA gearbox.

“Essentially it is a gear exchange,” Higham said. “We formed it with the intentions of making a network that can connect old gear to new gear. It eliminates the economic barriers that could happen in order to get into college sailing.”

In order to create more community outreach, the conference just created a LinkedIn page and is hoping to have some virtual mentorship programs this semester.

Through these initiatives, Higham is hopeful about finding ways to make the sport more inclusive and establishing a good team culture through these conversations.

Higham acknowledged that the sailing team has a platform to create some real changes.

“The biggest thing is we have this platform and sailing especially is not a very diverse sport there’s a big economic barrier. So, we are trying to put forward initiatives and different programs where we can try to break these barriers,” Higham said.

So far the committee has changed some bylaws within the conference, by including more inclusive language and the requirement of having a member of your team be a representative within the NEISA TIDE committee in order to qualify or be able to compete in certain competitions.

Higham believes this could have a big impact on all sports.

“This is definitely something we just want to get the word out and keep talking about it more. By NEISA creating this committee, it could be something that could raise awareness for maybe the NCAA to form a committee as well,” Higham said. “It’s just the beginning of what could be expanded.”