A million visitors pass through the doors of the Michigan Technological University Student Development Complex (SDC) every year. Athletic Director Suzanne Sanregret is committed to making every one of them feel welcome.
Sanregret's holistic approach to inclusion — a systemic team mindset and whole-building culture that goes beyond brick-and-mortar accessibility — has been recognized with the 2019 Michigan Tech Diversity Award.
The award, established in 2014, honors University thought leaders who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to foster diversity and inclusion at the University through recruitment, projects, on-and-off campus collaborations and other activities that promote diversity in teaching, research and service.
In addition to Michigan Tech's 14 varsity sports, Sanregret is in charge of the University's Recreation, Intramural Sports and Michigan Tech Outdoor Adventure programs. Appointed in 2005, she serves as Title IX Coordinator for Gender Equity in Athletics and is a long-time leader in regional and national athletic circles.
"Dr. Sanregret has made an enduring commitment to women's representation and empowerment throughout Michigan Tech's athletics programs and has integrated her commitment to diversity and inclusion into her service in national athletics associations. She has been the driving force behind the many accessibility improvements made to the SDC in recent years, from the parking lot to the pool, from the football field to the hockey stands, going above and beyond what the law requires. These improvements, along with the lactation facilities and all-gender bathrooms and locker rooms in the SDC, signal to our community that all are welcome."
Celebrating Campus Diversity and Inclusion
The Michigan Tech Diversity Award recipient receives a $2,500 award and is honored during the Faculty Awards Dinner in September. Learn more about the application and selection process and Michigan Tech's Diversity Council.
Sanregret, who views diversity as an all-encompassing mandate that in the most basic terms means to do the right thing for all people on an individual level, said the award is entirely unexpected.
"I was so surprised. My first thought was, ‘I'm just doing my job,’" she said. "It's what everyone should be doing."
"If you love your work and love the people around you and care about them — that's the basis for the work we do."
Q: What's your personal definition of diversity and inclusion?
SS: I don't think about diversity and inclusion in narrow terms. I think about it very broadly. For me, it means making everyone feel welcome.
Q: What is the work you do, specifically related to diversity and inclusion?
SS: I think we've created a culture in this building with a really good team of people that always have in mind how to make everyone feel a part of what we're doing. And a big part of that is making things accessible.
Regardless of whether it's on campus or in the NCAA or within conferences, it's constantly working on authentic relationships. I try to put a lot of time into that.
Q: Is there a specific moment you can recall that made you aware of what you could do to foster diversity and inclusion?
SS: The Title IX gender equity piece was where I started understanding what equity really looks like. It doesn't necessarily mean everything is the same for everybody, because there are a lot of different circumstances and individuals to consider. That same mindset has expanded beyond sports into a variety of other areas that impact the patrons and customers in this building — students, faculty and staff and community. It's something we work on regularly.
Q: How do you do the work? Why is it important?
A: It's simple. Everyone has needs. We don't want to stereotype them or characterize them into certain buckets, but rather to operate with an overarching view that we want all people to feel welcome. We don’t always get it right. We do struggle at times to balance what is good for one population but may not work for another. At those moments, we go back to our strategic plan — and that is all about students. The Student Development Complex focuses on experiences for our students.
Welcome to our House: Michigan Tech's Student Development Complex, a campus and community hub for people of all ages, offers everything from water Zumba and spinning classes to yoga, rock-climbing and multiple opportunities to cheer on the MTU Huskies.
We want more and more people in this building for a variety of reasons. We want them to support our athletic programs. We want them to have recreational opportunities — especially students and student-athletes, to balance their academics and play a positive role in mental health so that we're contributing to their full development. Having an environment where anyone who wants to be a part of athletics or recreation can feel comfortable will bring more people here. That's why diversity and inclusion are important. The culture we've created goes beyond gender-neutral locker rooms and accessibility. It goes to a place of good customer service and trying to work with people, making them feel welcome.
"If there's one person who needs a service of accommodation, there are probably more people who will appreciate it."
We work with Michigan Tech's CDI (the Center for Diversity and Inclusion) and Institutional Equity; I feel fortunate that we have such strong leaders that I have good relationships with in both of those units. I appreciate their guidance and expertise. We can always have a great conversation and put a plan into place.
"She was the first female athletic director at Michigan Tech, in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference and on the NCAA DII Men's Basketball Regional Ranking Committee. Suzanne also takes time to mentor young female professionals through the Athletic Directors Association mentoring program and on Michigan Tech's campus."
Q: What about diversity in athletics, specifically?
SS: Facilities, equipment and uniforms are easy to measure. But we as an institution have challenges in attracting students from underrepresented backgrounds. Athletics programs provide an avenue to increase not only gender but also racial and ethnic minority enrollment. With recruitment comes a lot of responsibility, not only for me, but for our coaches and staff, who work to make student-athletes feel welcome, to work through the challenges of living in a rural community where they may not be the majority population.
We spend a lot of time training and investing in our coaches so that they can look at every student-athlete and try to figure out what their individual needs are. International students may have different needs than domestic students. We also are cognizant of different socioeconomic backgrounds — that's part of diversity and inclusion as well. I know our coaches take that very seriously, to provide meaningful athletic and academic experiences.
"We provide the support that student-athletes need in many facets of their lives, knowing that they come from many different places."
Q: What are the challenges you've faced — and what did you learn from them?
SS: It's still a common occurrence in athletics to be the only woman sitting at the table; I know what it feels like to be “the only one” in the room. When I started my career, I think most colleagues treated me fairly. I earned my place and that's how I want it. I wouldn't say it was difficult or painful, or compare my experiences to the challenges that some identity groups or individuals have faced. There are situations I can point to that were very inappropriate or uncomfortable. As I've developed as a leader and in my own philosophies about how to treat people, I look back now and say, "That was wrong. That never should have happened." But I also had some champions in those spaces who understood the importance of having diversity in gender at the table to talk about athletics.
"Suzanne is a well-known and active female administrator in a male-dominated field. She has broken many glass ceilings here and across the nation."
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of?
SS: Having been a student at Michigan Tech — one of a handful of women in the classroom — having started my career in the equipment room working with a majority of male athletes and coaches, I'm proud of, in Beth's terms, "breaking the glass ceiling."
Q: What (or who) inspires you to dedicate time to improving diversity and inclusion at Michigan Tech and in women's athletics nationally?
SS: One of my mentors was Cheryl DePuydt, whom I was fortunate to work with as a colleague for many years. She shared a lot of experiences about her career with me, what it was like back in the 1970s and starting the women’s athletic programs, being the only female administrator and how to handle it all, including balancing a family. The one thing that stuck with me is to remain professional, work through it, be the best you that you can be, and continue, don't give up and keep pushing for change.
I wasn't the first woman. She was. I'm thankful for all the women who came before me. They pushed for Title IX and equity for girls and women in sports. I benefited from that and am very fortunate.
Q: What opportunities does this award open up?
SS: I’d like to see more action across campus and all staff, faculty and students participating in the programming and activities that are offered. It's one thing to go through training and check the boxes. It's another to really embed it into your operation and have people incorporate it into their day-to-day work.
It comes down to the choices you're willing to make. If it's something you're going to invest in, you might have to give up something else to enhance accessibility, for example. We've made some of those decisions. We don't have it all figured out. We have a ways to go. We still struggle with a lot of things. I know our team feels bad when there's something that has to be brought to our attention. It's like, "Oh gosh, why didn't we think of that?" And then we just work on a way to address it.
"How wonderful that this award can recognize the efforts of all the people who work in this building — it recognizes the work that we do for the campus community every day. There is a list of things that we've done. But I'm most proud of the way we treat pe0ple."
Q: What would you like to see happen at Michigan Tech, in athletics, and in the community in the future?
SS: I think the Tech Forward initiative specific to diversity and inclusion is critical to moving forward and adding teeth to the practice of diversity. There's a responsibility for every individual across campus to do our part. Many of our students will be living and working in areas that are very diverse. That shouldn't be a shock to them. In order to be successful as an individual, diverse perspectives are critical to finding the best outcome. Having many different voices and experiences at the table is critical. We have an obligation as educators to provide for our students an environment in which they can learn, grow and develop.
In athletics from a gender standpoint we're doing well. The challenge is to attract and retain coaches and staff from other underrepresented backgrounds. That's got to be a focus because we want those different voices. That requires a welcoming, supporting, friendly environment.
I think all communities and organizations can get better. We all have room for improvement. More than ever we need a more welcoming environment. Regardless of background or geographical location. We always can do better.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.