Athletics & Recreation student staff participate in collaborative, experiential training

The York University Athletics & Recreation Department, the Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion (REI), and the Simulated Person Methodology (SPM) Lab recently teamed up to deliver a rich experiential learning and training opportunity for student employees.

No photo description available.The groundbreaking training session focused on educating student staff on how to handle issues in the workplace, such as sexual harassment, racism, and creating a safe and inclusive space for all.

“We wanted to foster a feeling of community, support and inspire confidence in the ability of our staff to serve members in difficult situations,” said Andrew Hvizd, manager of fitness, lifestyle and client services with Athletics & Recreation. “To provide the level of service and support we expect out of student employees, we called upon our campus partners to develop and deliver a high-impact workshop educating student staff on sexual harassment, racism and creating inclusive space. We couldn’t have been happier with how everything worked out, and collaborating with REI and SPM on this project was a great experience.”

With more than 800 casual staff, Athletics & Recreation employs the largest group of student employees at York University. Many of the students are front-line staff who must be prepared to respond to a variety of sensitive issues. REI worked closely with Athletics & Recreation to understand the organizational challenges and needs related to staff training and development, which enabled them to create an educational and engaging workshop.

“Partnering with the Department of Athletics & Recreation and the Simulated Person Methodology Lab was an exciting and unique opportunity for the education team with the Centre for Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion,” said Allison Bishop, advisor of education and communications with REI. “Together, we developed an experiential, impactful workshop designed to help student staff understand the impacts of racism, homophobia, transphobia and sexual harassment; apply strategies for addressing comments and incidents in the workplace; improve capacity to provide appropriate and inclusive services; and better understand the needs of diverse staff, students, faculty and the York community. We are always interested in working with campus partners to develop innovative training that responds to the needs of learners in relevant and engaging ways.”

To help drive home the message and the learning objectives of the workshop, the SPM Lab was instrumental in creating an experiential learning opportunity using simulated persons methodology. In one of the scenarios created for the training session, the simulated person acted as a member in the Tait McKenzie Centre reporting an incident of sexual harassment. It was an opportunity for the “learner,” who was a student staff member, to play out the scenario and practise the learning objectives of identifying behaviour as potential sexual harassment, demonstrating empathy, providing immediate safety and providing additional resources, such as contact information for the Centre for Sexual Violence, Response, Support & Education.

“The SPM Lab’s vision is to promote excellence in delivering simulated person methodology as an experiential education approach to foster pan-university collaborations, liaison and network, as well as become a leader by enhancing simulation research intensity and capacity,” said Eva Peisachovich, founder and director of the SPM Lab. “Our work is centred on using experiential education methodologies to explore how people or learners interact with their worlds and develop personally and professionally.

“The SPM Lab supported Hvizd’s team in enhancing the customer service skills of the staff in Athletics & Recreation, which involved a race and gender element by collaborating with the REI department and through the use of SPM. This was an excellent example of how SPM was used in a non-traditional environment for the purposes of the training session and a successful collaboration between three departments.”

In addition to educating the student staff members on how to respond to sensitive situations, the experiential training session also focused on developing the students’ global competency and leadership skills.

“Our staff benefited greatly from the workshop delivered by the REI team earlier in January,” said Vienna Nguyen, a student staff member in Athletics & Recreation who participated in the workshop. “As individuals that come into contact daily with so many different members of the York University community, it was extremely helpful to learn and discuss how to create a safe environment at the Tait McKenzie Centre. Being able to engage in realistic scenarios with the SPM Lab and practise our skills in a safe space gave us the tools to return to our jobs and promote an inclusive space for our community.”

With one successful workshop now in the rear-view mirror, the Athletics & Recreation Department is looking forward to continuing their relationship with the SPM Lab in the future. The opportunity for additional experiential learning and training sessions that further advance student staff competency and skills is of great benefit to the Athletics & Recreation Department, allowing the dedicated staff members to better serve the greater York community.