Raising the bar

Athletic training student Emma Nye has been honored for her efforts to make campus and her profession more inclusive.

One could say it was a bit of a culture shock for Emma Nye when she moved from her home state of New York to Indiana in pursuit of a master’s degree in athletic training at Indiana State University.

Not long after her arrival in 2014, Nye, who is a student in the Doctor of Athletic Training program, was greeted by the state legislature’s passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed individuals and companies to assert that their freedom of religion had been, or was likely to be, substantially burdened as a legal defense. Opponents of the law said it could be used to discriminate against individuals who identified as LGBT.

“I couldn’t really wrap my head around that type of discrimination,” said Nye, who is gay. “I went to the Capitol building in Indianapolis and protested, and I felt like my passion for advocacy turned into tangible action.”

Nye returned to campus determined to make Indiana State more inclusive of people from all genders, races, religions and sexual orientations. She approached the university’s diversity committee about boosting the campus’ Campus Pride Index, an LGBT national benchmarking tool for colleges and university to create safer, more inclusive campus communities.

“Indiana State is a 3.5 out of 5, so there is room for growth there,” Nye said. “We brainstormed ways to make the athletics department and athletic training department more inclusive for our athletes, our fans, and I’m excited about the research I’m conducting to see what the problem is and then how to fix it.”

Starting last summer, Nye and fellow doctorate in athletic training students Ashley Crossway and Sean Rogers began researching the perceptions of student-athletes who work with an athletic trainer who identifies as LGBT and perceptions of athletic trainers who work with student-athletes who identify as LGBT.

They are in the process of doing a pilot study with a survey tool consisting of question on care and quality of care as it relates to things such as gender, religion and sexual orientation. The survey will be sent out this spring to all NCAA Division I, II and III athletic trainers and student-athletes.

“We really want to know if someone is working with an athletic trainer who identifies with the LGBTQ community, does that change the way you collaborate? Or if you, as an athletic trainer, are working with a student-athlete who identifies as LGBT does that change your quality of care or approach to athletic training, in general?” Nye said. “We’re hoping not to find a difference, but if we do, then we’ve figured out the problem and can move forward to find a solution because this an environment where people can come, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, race or religion, and you will get high quality patient care. We want to bridge a gap if there is one, and I think it will boil down to education.”

It’s not her first go-around with this topic. Two years ago, Nye wrote an article for the Journal of Contemporary Athletics about workplace discrimination and the importance of passing the Equality Act, an anti-discriminatory workplace act.

“There are staggering statistics that say LGBT athletic trainers and people in athletics, coaches and athletic directors are discriminated against, not paid as much or denied access to certain things, and I wanted to know what we could do to change that,” she said. “The article focused on key things that not only organizations but also individuals can do to make the athletic training room more inclusive. What it came down to was the importance of advocacy and having a voice in the community. Oftentimes we get frustrated with potential negative legislation, but we don’t take action. It’s about speaking up and giving a voice to those in the LGBT community who feel stuck and don’t know what to do.”

Nye, ’17, has a graduate assistantship with athletic training program, where she has received hands-on training as an athletic trainer for Sycamore volleyball and Terre Haute South High School and serves as a preceptor for the athletic training education program.

With State being her first place to practice as an athletic trainer, Nye said she hopes to make her colleagues wherever she goes after graduation in May take a pledge to provide care to all patients.

“Sometimes in athletics there can be a negative connotation with high-profile sports that you have to be tough and not talk about your feelings and just play, but it’s really important to have those types of conversations in (the athletic training room), the locker room,” she said. “It’s really about taking a pledge to be better.”

Her experiences led her to champion for a more inclusive workplace, an effort that also won her recognition as the 2016 recipient of the Indiana Athletic Trainers Association’s Diversity Award for individual athletic trainers or athletic training programs that promote diversity in the profession.

“I was impressed that the award went to a member of the LGBT community because sometimes when people think of diversity, they think of race and ethnicity, and there are so many types of diversity represented by the people in the athletic training membership. I was happy to be able to represent the LGBT athletic trainers,” Nye said. “It recognized the work I’ve put in to advocate and educate for the LGBT community, whether that’s myself as an openly gay athletic trainer or the patients that I serve to try to make the athletic training room an inclusive atmosphere.”

Nye’s work inspired her nominator, Zachary Winkelmann, a Ph.D. student in the curriculum and instruction program who teaches in the athletic training program.

“Emma continues to break down cultural barriers in health care, including patient perceptions of working with a health care provider who is LGBTQ and explore new avenues to share her message through dissemination of peer-reviewed publications and continued cultural competence of differing populations,” said Winkelmann, who accepted the award in October on behalf of Nye, who was traveling with the volleyball team in Iowa. “Emma has cultivated herself into a leader and advocate in the profession through taking a stance on this challenging issue for so many through her coursework in the Doctorate in Athletic Training program. Overall, the behavior and personality of Miss Nye are transparent to the Indiana State University athletics community, the community of Terre Haute and the profession of athletic training.”

It’s a profession Nye found her way to after not having access to an athletic trainer during high school.

“I would often treat myself and figure out how to deal with injuries I sustained,” she said. “Once I realized what an athletic trainer was and how helpful they are for the performance of an athlete, I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in athletic training.”

The two main outcomes of Indiana State’s program, education and advocacy, are perfectly aligned with Nye’s two biggest passions.

“It’s almost like the program helped me develop my passion to educate others and to advocate for certain populations, and I feel like I’ve made a difference in Indiana,” she said. “I’m glad I pursued this avenue, because the program’s not just about athletic training skills, but about being a better overall athletic trainer.”

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