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Holly Roepke joins staff

Photo by Mahira Faran

By Michael Cummings

While most offices in the Bear are occupied by coaches of various sports, a recent hire diversifies the type of jobs you can find in the athletic facility. Seeking to better address the needs of student athletes and the College in general, the College recently hired Holly Roepke as the new Assistant Athletic Director for Diversity and Inclusion.


Roepke, a transplant from Southern California, has spent her career in the fields of athletics and education.


“Prior to Grinnell I worked at the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference office, a D-III conference in Southern California,” she said. “Prior to that I was a teacher, and I’ve worked in education and in athletics for the last, prior to that, for 14 years.”


Roepke says that she left behind nicer weather because of the opportunities this new position provides.


“A position like this doesn’t exist everywhere in the country, and it’s an awesome place, but it’s also a really great position, looking at athletic departments, [it’s] very unique,” Roepke said.

In particular, Roepke sees the establishment of this position as evidence that Grinnell, unlike other institutions, is not just all talk with no action.


“What I really like is the value placed on diversity and inclusion at Grinnell. It’s not just a buzzword, that there’s actual action behind it, and that there’s an intent, and there’s a passion of diversity and inclusion here that’s not really found elsewhere,” Roepke said. “One of the things I had seen, I had mentioned in my interview process is, everyone kind of has a diversity and inclusion statement, ‘this is what we’re about’ … but not a lot of people live it. And at Grinnell, I really see there’s an effort to live diversity and inclusion.”


Though she has only been here for two weeks, Roepke has hit the ground running, taking quick action to learn about the College and identify areas of need.


“… [M]y first 30 days I’m going to learn, and I’m going to meet with as many people as I can meet with, and understand what is in place,” she said. “It’s really important to me to not come in with any preconceived notion of what is, or what should be, until I realize what is existing … so that’s what I’ve done. I’ve met with a lot of people all across campus, and that’s one of my goals is to really unify, and to work where needed, and to kind of bridge across the campus and the community.”


One issue in particular that Roepke hopes to address is placing more emphasis on inclusion in discussions about diversity.


“I also feel that the diversity piece has really been a key component at least in this department, and I really want to work and focus a lot more energy on inclusion,” Roepke said. “I think it’s been missed, I think with the title of ‘diversity and inclusion’ I think the diversity piece gets hit first, and I think it kind of trails off on the inclusion, I really want to switch that. I think the diversity is understood, right, and it’s happening within capabilities, but unless we understand the inclusion part, the diversity part doesn’t totally make sense.”


Part of this focus on inclusion, Roepke says, will be to help students who may not be comfortable using the fitness center when it’s crowded by sports teams, find other times to work out.


“[W]hen there’s, you know, 50 people in that small space and they’re large people and they’re doing their own thing, it’s not comfortable even for athletes,” Roepke said. “I think it would be great to have an orientation here, to show people around the fitness center, to show people not every moment of the day looks like it does at 5:00 when the teams are in there kind of doing what they have scheduled to do at that time, and there’s times … when it looks completely different. It would be, I think a little more welcoming at different times of the day.”


Outside of her work, Roepke is finding the transition from Southern California to rural Iowa a pleasant one.


“So far I’m really appreciating it,” Roepke said. “It doesn’t feel small, because the College is so big, right, in so many different ways, not in population size, but in the sense of purpose.”


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