For Kostas Koutsioumpas, a PhD student in the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development (SGISD), sports is much more than a game. Koutsioumpas is researching the intersection between sports, human rights, and social justice.
He’s asking questions like: Who gets to play sports in various cultures and communities? How does exclusion from athletic activity affect participation in society?
“Sports is a human right, and it can also increase awareness about human rights,” said Koutsioumpas. “Sport is not just competition. It’s also a determinant of psychosocial functioning and being healthier.”
Health and Competition Across Disciplines
A competitive wrestler himself with the Greek national team, Koutsioumpas has been interested in sports as a tool for social inclusion and empowerment for years.
Through an internship program, he worked at a spinal injury rehabilitation center in New Delhi, India. He taught therapists and patients about the role that physical activity can play in spinal cord Injury rehabilitation.
In Greece, when Koutsioumpas was looking into international graduate programs, SGISD appealed to him because of its transdisciplinary nature.
“The issues being faced in terms of social exclusion are highly complex, and they require a more holistic and interdisciplinary approach in order to address them,” Koutsioumpas explained.
Koutsioumpas was also drawn to the way SGISD defines the term global inclusion. “The program doesn’t use it only to focus on inclusion in the world, but also to give light to the issues that may be faced in the community,” he said. “So it’s both global and local.”
Practical Research, Real-World Action
Another appealing aspect of the program for Koutsioumpas is its hands-on nature. Here in Boston, he has been involved in a variety of projects looking at social inclusion and exclusion.
Assistant Professor Gillian MacNaughton and Koutsioumpas have worked on a case study, which is part of a World Health Organization research project. The case study examines how Vermont’s human rights-based approach to health care reform has achieved groundbreaking legislation, establishing a pathway to a system of universal healthcare.
In addition, Koutsioumpas and Assistant Professor Sindiso Mnisi Weeks visited Concord, NH, to talk to leaders in a refugee community about socio-economic issues. Koutsioumpas hopes that he and Mnisi Weeks will receive funding to do further research into this refugee community and others.
Questions for Kostas Koutsioumpas
What first attracted you to this graduate program and to UMass Boston?
I think it was the unique and comprehensive approach to the different issues of social injustice, and their interconnection with one another. At the time I applied, this was one of the few programs that would provide this kind of transdisciplinary approach.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you so far about studying here?
The biggest surprise for me has been the great opportunities the school provides for us to be involved with many research and hands-on projects and learning experiences.
What does inclusion mean to you?
Inclusion means that we overcome the social margins that divide us, leading to our reciprocal advancement as human beings and of our human consciousness. This happens through restorative justice, self-determination, respect, and equal access to rights and responsibilities.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work toward social justice and inclusion?
To be optimistic and have a vision—and at the same time, to remain down-to-earth and with his or her feet on the ground. Social justice and inclusion require our actions to be louder than our words on a day-to-day basis.