UI Dance Marathon 26 implements more inclusive initiatives

After the organization was audited last year, UI Dance Marathon 26 developed and implemented new diversity and inclusion initiatives to make the most out of its Big Event.

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Accommodations volunteers sit in the accommodations room during Dance Marathon on Friday, February 7, 2020. The volunteers remain in case students need medical or physical help during the marathon.

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

Following the release of results of a University of Iowa Dance Marathon Diversity and Inclusion Audit, the student organization realized a need for improvements to accommodate dancers of different backgrounds. In its 26th year, UI Dance Marathon is making changes to ensure every participant has access to accommodations during its Big Event.

The audit took place between spring 2018 to fall 2018, and focused on areas of accessibility, financial barriers, cultural sensitivity, and diversity. 

The UI Dance Marathon Executive Council is taking measures to make the event more inclusive overall, said Hailee Talbot, campus relations director for Dance Marathon 26. 

“As an organization, we knew we needed to work on inclusivity,” she said. “The audit just reinforced that and gave us direction to move forward.”

The first issue which was discussed in the audit to be addressed by the executive council was accessibility, Talbot said.

The audit specifies Dance Marathon’s Big Event as a crucial area for improved accessibility for dancers, especially those who cannot stand on their feet for the 24-hour long event. 

“We started an accommodation room last year,” Talbot said. “We set up a room during the Big Event that anybody can come [to] at any time if they need to sit down for a second or a quiet place to escape the hundreds of people who are in the IMU. There’s a room that has cots in it for anyone who needs to lay down. Also we have snacks up there for people with hypoglycemia or diabetes.” 

Talbot said that many people rotated through this room during Dance Marathon 25. She also said that participants were informed of the accommodation at monthly dancer meetings.

The room is advertised on Dance Marathon’s website so any prospective dancers are able to know accessibility is a priority to the organization, she added.

RELATED: Dance Marathon 26 will dance ‘for the kids’ in Big Event this weekend

There are two accommodation rooms for dancers, said Dance Marathon Executive Director Allie Stutting during the opening ceremonies Friday. The rooms are on the second and third floor for students who need them.

Within two hours of the event starting, a student had already ventured to the third-floor room looking for a place to sit and drink water with two Dance Marathon volunteers. 

UI President Bruce Harreld spoke at the opening ceremonies, urging dancers to take care of themselves over the 24-hour period.

“Have fun, hydrate, and remember,” he said, “this is all about the kids. Go Hawks.”

The second area of improvement that Dance Marathon focused on was the financial accommodations discussed in the audit.

“Financial barriers have grown to be a large issue within Dance Marathon regarding

registration fees, event costs, and access to fundraising resources and networks,” the 2018 audit reads. “Current barriers individuals face include the inability to complete the $50 registration fee upon signing up.”

RELATED: UI Dance Marathon 26 launches ‘We Fight Together’ campaign

Talbot said the executive council addressed this issue and made changes to it with the creation of a registration fee waiver.

“There is a registration fee of $50 to join Dance Marathon,” she said. “Obviously, that is a barrier for some people, alongside raising $500. We recognize that it can be a lot, so we came up with a little application that’s just your information and a couple questions about why you want to join Dance Marathon and how the waiver would help you.”

In its first year, the waiver was utilized by a small number of people and everyone who applied was thankful for the opportunity to waive the fee that would have kept them from joining the organization, Talbot said.

However, she added that the mission to be more inclusive is not over for the organization and it will continue even after she exits her position in three days. 

“There are a lot of things that we want to do,” she said. “We want to keep moving forward. I’m excited to see what the next group of people will get done.” 

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