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Committee announces ‘Champions of Diversity and Inclusion’

Individuals who help support underrepresented populations to be recognized by Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee

An NCAA committee is introducing a new initiative to spotlight individuals who are working to support the interests of ethnic minorities and other underrepresented populations.

The Champions of Diversity and Inclusion recognition was created by the Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee, comprised of athletics directors, faculty members, college athletes and others affiliated with NCAA member schools. The committee is Association-wide, which means it is not affiliated with an NCAA division but instead deals with issues relevant to the entire NCAA.

Dan Jones, Chancellor at University of Mississippi

The first individuals whose work will be highlighted by the program are both from the University of Mississippi: Dr. Daniel W. Jones, the chancellor at the University of Mississippi, and Ross Bjork, the director of athletics. Both men worked as part of the university’s efforts to modernize and add historical context to cultural symbols on the Mississippi campus.

Specifically, Jones last year announced a comprehensive action plan for fostering an environment of inclusion on the Mississippi campus. In it, he outlined plans to create a vice chancellor-level position for diversity and inclusion and rename a campus street called Confederate Drive. Bjork, meanwhile, has supported these initiatives from an athletics perspective, including naming a space in an athletics facility after the first two black football players at Mississippi.

China Jude, chair of the committee and athletics director at Queens College in New York, said the committee seeks “athletics administrators of influence, who have provided significant support to underrepresented populations,” including ethnic minorities, the disabled, and the LGBTQ community.

Ross Bjork, Director of Athletics at University of Mississippi

Those recognized as Champions of Diversity and Inclusion have created opportunities for those in underrepresented populations to advance into senior leadership positions; demonstrated longevity or consistency in their support; or initiated or coordinated cultural change in an athletics department or at an NCAA member school in matters related to college sports.

Jude announced the initiative in conjunction with Bernard Franklin, NCAA chief inclusion officer and executive vice president of education and community engagement.

“We believe that it is important to identify individuals who are making sincere efforts to support underrepresented populations,” Franklin and Jude said in a letter to its first honorees. “Your stance … speaks volumes to the current social climate in which we live. We understand that your process will be long and challenging; however, it is necessary as this country grows more ethnically diverse.”

Biographies:

Dr. Daniel W. Jones

Dr. Daniel W. Jones, the University of Mississippi’s chancellor, has made it a top priority to assure his campus reflects an inclusive and welcoming environment at all times.

For his work, Jones has been selected by the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee as a Champion of Diversity and Inclusion.

With the help of consultants and university committees, Jones worked hard to attain his goals on issues of race and diversity.  Last year, Jones released a comprehensive action plan that involved bold and important initiatives, including creating the new position of vice chancellor for diversity.

The plan, Jones said, was constructed to assure Mississippi would be “a warm and welcoming place for every person every day, regardless of race, religious preference, country of origin, ability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or gender expression.” Jones also noted the importance of dealing squarely with the issue of race and acquainting new students with the school’s ideals of inclusion and fairness.

“We look forward to a day when it is the norm to embrace and celebrate our differences, when our country and state have become a truly post-racial society,” Jones said. “Clearly, there are still issues regarding race that our country must address. “And we will need to continue a dialogue on race at our university.”

Jones, a native of Morton, Mississippi, was appointed chancellor at the university in 2009. Before that, he served as Mississippi’s vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the school of medicine. Starting in September, he will assume a role heading the obesity research unit at University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Ross Bjork

Within the University of Mississippi athletics department, a prime concern is always to promote racial equity and encourage dialogue on the topic of race. Athletics Director Ross Bjork makes sure of it.

Bjork, who is being recognized for his work by the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee, took over as athletics director at Ole Miss in March 2012. He quickly became known for his bold and successful hires on the coaching staff, structural improvements in facilities and spirit-building in his department and among alumni.

He also made his mark as a leader in seeking diversity.

“The athletics program is committed to celebrating the differences of our student body, valuing each member of our community, and fostering an atmosphere of civility and respect,” Bjork said. “As an auxiliary of the University of Mississippi, we provide a wealth of opportunities to see diversity in action.”

The athletics department has partnered with the William Winter Institute for Racial Recognition on extensive work on campus. In 2014, the Mississippi athletics department renamed its football facility as the Archie and Olivia Manning Center and provided special recognition to the school’s first two African-American football student-athletes, Ben Williams and James Reed. The football recruiting wing became known as the Williams-Reed Foyer.

At the final basketball game this past season, the athletics department honored Coolidge Ball, who was the first African-American student-athlete in that sport at Ole Miss.

The athletics department also has partnered with various organizations on campus to bring diversity-related programming to the school.  Among speakers to visit have been Soledad O’Brien, Tony Dungy and Michael Eric Dyson.

Before taking the Mississippi job, Bjork was director of athletics at Western Kentucky University from 2010-12. From 2005-10, he served as senior associate athletics director for external relations at the University of California, Los Angeles.