You are here

Student-athlete voices resonate throughout forum

The NCAA Inclusion Forum saw a rise in attendance this year, including a spike in student-athlete registrations and panel participation.

This was the eighth year the NCAA office of inclusion and human resources hosted the event, which featured two and a half days of professional development and educational sessions centering on gender, international student-athletes, the LGBTQ community, race and student-athletes with disabilities. The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta and local officials welcomed attendees with an opening reception.

More than 530 individuals attended the forum, including 136 student-athletes, a 25% increase from 2018. The forum provided an opportunity for student-athletes and administrators to engage nationally on diversity and inclusion topics.

“The eighth annual NCAA inclusion forum was a historic experience,” said Katrice Albert, NCAA executive vice president of inclusion and human resources. “To be able to have our student-athletes represented in large numbers, which was a 25 percent increase from last year, and to have them accompanied by athletics administrators, coaches and faculty athletics representatives while they worked, planned and thought about campus road maps to improve equity, diversity and their campus culture, was remarkable.”

This was the first year a student-athlete panel was featured each day at the forum. ESPN broadcaster LaChina Robinson moderated the Friday session featuring student-athlete leaders who created award-winning initiatives and programs that helped eliminate stigmas or promoted inclusivity and cultural change on or around their campuses. The student-athletes provided ideas on a variety of topics, including how to further programming that would be beneficial to the greater student-athlete base and how athletes can continue to drive diversity and well-being efforts.

“I loved being on the panel with current and former student-athletes, because it provided insight into how diversity and inclusion actually plays out at the student level,” said Delaney Hiegert, a panelist and former softball student-athlete at Newman. “It was great to have administrators and coaching staff at the forum, too, learning about policy and programming and best practices. However, it was so much more impactful to have the student-athlete voice at the table, because it provided perspectives administrators and coaches simply do not have.”

In another panel session, student-athletes also addressed LGBTQ equality and discussed how athletics departments could create inclusive environments for student-athletes. The panelists talked about their personal experiences and how to best navigate conversations that could be challenging for them, as well as for administrators. One solution included being able to find allies, while also identifying people who could offer support within athletics and externally.

Mental health continues to be a rising issue in athletics and was a serious matter of discussion. Student-athletes talked about having to identify with numerous identities and how those identities, including their race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, gender, country of origin and physical ability, need to be recognized to diminish potential issues.

The athletes also had an evening to delve deeper into ways they could create more inclusive cultures on their campuses as part of the Regional Student-Athlete Engagement Program. The athletes worked with the Ross Initiative on Sport Equality and started plans they could take back to their schools to support ongoing initiatives to promote diversity and inclusivity. A few of the athletes were selected to discuss the engagement session and their campus plans on the final day of the forum.

“It’s important for student-athletes to talk about inclusion and diversity in a setting like the inclusion forum because it is a welcoming environment where individuals can be transparent and sympathetic to the obstacles they face on campus,” said Khristian Carr, who played volleyball at Mississippi State.

“I was able to reflect on a few challenges that my school experiences, and I was able to jot down several ideas I would like to take to the athletic and life skills department with the hopes of bringing awareness to our SAAC and M-Club committees. I found the forum and the student-athlete engagement program to be educational and inspirational,” Carr said.

Administrators also saw value in the discussions. “The resources and perspectives offered and hearing the different experiences is what the student-athlete experience is all about, and we’re learning how we can better shape that as administrators and coaches,” said University of Wisconsin-River Falls assistant athletics director Kellen Wells-Mangold. “It’s hard to put into words how important this work is for our student-athletes, and the forum is the driver of that.” UW-River Falls was the recipient of the NCAA and Minority Opportunities Athletics Association’s award for diversity and inclusion earlier this year.

In addition to the student-athlete panels, the forum also welcomed nationally acclaimed voices for plenary sessions, including thought leader Derek Greenfield, diversity strategist Lenora Billings Harris and former Luther football student-athlete Chris Norton. Additionally, the event offered a broad scope of programming that addressed developing strategic inclusion plans in athletics; Title IX and gender equity; sexual violence prevention on campus; inclusion as it involves disabilities and international student-athletes; and understanding how to bridge diversity gaps.

Once again, the office of inclusion and human resources recognized inclusion trailblazers with awards. The recipients were former Morehouse quarterback/NFL referee Jerome Boger; former Auburn women’s basketball coach and public address announcer Susan Nunnelly; former Georgia Tech football players Karl Barnes and Eddie McAshan; and Jack Thompson, the current special assistant to the Georgia Tech athletics director.

The NCAA Committee on Promoting Cultural Diversity and Excellence held a meeting at the forum to continue to discuss ways to implement its three main goals, which were established in the fall of 2018. The committee hosted a session where it gathered feedback from attendees on how to further inclusivity as it relates to the goals. The group has had early success driving initiatives that tie to the NCAA Presidential Pledge, including an optimization of the senior woman administrator designation and continued movement on a proposal to establish a diversity and inclusion contact within athletics. It also will discuss the NCAA governance structure later in the year to ensure diverse representation on committees and voting bodies. Along with CPCDE, the Committee on Women’s Athletics, Minority Opportunities and Interest Committee and the Gender Equity Task Force met to round out the “Force of Four,” which relates to the continued push for inclusion, diversity and equity in intercollegiate athletics and higher education.

Planning has begun for the 9th annual Inclusion Forum, which will be held April 17-19, 2020, in Denver.