MORGANTOWN – When Mike Carey and the rest of the West Virginia women’s basketball coaching staff took in a WNBA game last year between the Seattle Storm and Atlanta Dream to watch two former WVU players, they were intrigued by the diversity event that the teams hosted during the game.
So much so, that they felt compelled to bring a similar event to Morgantown and the WVU Coliseum.
“It was interesting to see how many people got involved,” Carey said. “They did it with different schools in the area and that type of stuff. But, coming out of that, we thought, ‘man, it would be great to have that here at West Virginia and get a lot of people involved.’”
As a result, on Sunday Jan. 28, WVU women’s basketball, in collaboration with WVU’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, will host “I Belong” Day at the Coliseum before and during the Mountaineers’ nationally televised showdown with No. 3 Baylor at 3 p.m.
“We hear from so many different people that they’re not sure if they can go to a sporting event because of their race, or their culture, their religion or anything,” said Pat Biondo, Director of Basketball Operations for WVU women’s basketball. “So we wanted a place where we could be welcoming to everybody. We’re really excited to educate the youth and their families and the community.”
Prior to the start of the game, more than 30 WVU student organizations will have interactive booths and tables set up in the concourse of the Coliseum showcasing various cultures and promoting gender, sexual and religious equity and inclusivity. While during the game, there will be additional activities and performances for those in the crowd.
Also, Governor Jim Justice even issued a proclamation on Jan. 23 to declare Jan. 28, 2018 as “I Belong” Day for the entire state of West Virginia.
The slogan “I Belong” actually comes from the lyrics to a popular song that every Mountaineer fan likely knows.
“Everyone knows the words to ‘Country Roads,’ and ‘Take me home to the place…I belong,’ and we want to make sure that everyone feels like they belong here,” Biondo said.
Throughout the week leading up to Sunday’s game, the athletic department has been sharing short video anecdotes on social media of a variety of different people sharing their own personal stories.
“We wanted to make sure everyone felt like they belonged,” Biondo said. “So, these videos of different people from different races, cultures, religions and sexual orientations are coming and explaining themselves and how they belong and what they are.”
Ultimately, the WVU athletic department and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hope that “I Belong” Day will be an opportunity to educate people and foster an understanding and acceptance about people that they encounter that are different.
“I would like people to come away from this event knowing that people who do not look like them, or talk like them, or worship like them, are in many more ways like them,” said Dr. Samuel Lopez, Assistant Vice President for Diversity Initiatives at WVU. “Athletics is just one common interest we share, but there are many others and my hope is events like this one will open avenues of discussion, engagement and deeper understanding of each other as people.”