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Western’s LGBTQ+ and BIPOC-centered swim lessons

Free drop-in lessons provide marginalized students a safe space to socialize learn how to swim

Swimmers practice their strokes in a pool similar to the pool at Wade King Student Recreation Center. Western Washington University students can choose what they would like to practice at the drop-in swim lessons held in the rec center. // Courtesy of Georgios Liakopoulos via Creative Commons

Drop-in LGBTQ+ and BIPOC-centered swim lessons are now available every Friday evening to Western Washington University students at the Wade King Student Recreation Center. 

These lessons are free to students and open to those of all backgrounds and abilities, with LGBTQ+ lessons being hosted from 4 to 5 p.m. and BIPOC lessons from 5 to 6 p.m.

There is no swimsuit policy and goggles, swim caps and towels are available to borrow. 

“You can come to the pool in whatever makes you feel comfortable, and we are perfectly fine with that,” said Maité De La Cruz, head guard at the rec center. “We just want people to have fun and come use the space, because all the students are paying for a rec center membership anyway.” 

The lessons were started last year by a previous head guard at the rec center, and have since been taken over by De La Cruz in January of 2024. 

“We've been trying to be more inclusive in the pool because we know that in the gym, it's very scary if you're not a cis white person sometimes, especially for more  underserved communities, like the LGBTQ+ community and BIPOC communities,” De La Cruz explained.

Along with improving their swimming skills, the lessons are also an opportunity for students to socialize and meet people with whom they share experiences. 

“With LGBTQ+ [lessons], yes, there are a lot of people who have never swam before, but a lot of people are already pretty well-versed and just looking for fellow LGBTQ+ individuals to share an hour with,” said Isabella Antoun, the swim instructor for both lessons. 

For Dio Jean-Baptiste, a regular attendee of the BIPOC lessons, the lessons have provided him a safe environment to work on his swimming that he didn’t always have.

“I’m from Haiti. When I thought about it from a more global perspective, there's a bunch of Black people who don't know how to swim. Most of them don't live next to the water or deal with the water, even if you're from an island. … In America, it's predominantly an accessibility thing,” Dio said. 

After experiencing a near-drowning, Dio heard about BIPOC swim lessons from a friend and decided to give them a try. Having a place where he feels comfortable to learn and receives specific feedback has been “tremendously helpful” for him.

“Just [having] a space where you could go and not have to worry about the minority-majority complex per se, especially with certain things … within certain groups, [that] have been stigmatized, like the whole myth of Black people don't swim,” Dio said.

According to the CDC, Black and Indigenous people across all age groups are more likely to drown than white people. 

“I think the biggest challenge is lack of diversity in general,” said Lindsay Williams, director of aquatics at Bellingham Athletic Club, said in an email.

As for why learning how to swim is important, Williams pointed out that safety is a number one priority, especially in a place like Bellingham that’s surrounded by water. 

“Swimming is fun and great exercise, and it's something you will be able to do your entire life,” Williams said. 

When asked why students should consider attending BIPOC or LGBTQ+ swim lessons, Dio emphasized that swimming can be a life saving skill. 

“For anyone who doesn't know how to swim and they have access to a free lesson, [that’s] pretty cool. No matter what happens academically, this is a life-saving skill that you get to walk out with, to take away from college,” Dio said.

For those interested in learning more about BIPOC or LGBTQ+ lessons, please contact instructor Isabella Antoun at or head guard Maité De La Cruz at

Madeline Thielman

Madeline Thielman is a campus life reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a fourth-year journalism/public relations major and business administration minor. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her dog, spending time outdoors, and all things travel. You can reach her at

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