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DII Keynote panel spotlights diversity and inclusion

Personal stories, calls to action shared in Friday session

Emphasizing a theme that has woven through the NCAA Convention this week in Nashville, Tennessee, a panel of speakers from the Division II membership Friday discussed diversity and inclusion on college campuses and shared their personal stories before hundreds of athletics administrators, college presidents and student-athletes who gathered for the Division II Keynote Session.

Emphasizing a theme that has woven through the NCAA Convention this week in Nashville, Tennessee, a panel of speakers from the Division II membership Friday discussed diversity and inclusion on college campuses and shared their personal stories before hundreds of athletics administrators, college presidents and student-athletes who gathered for the Division II Keynote Session.

Jacqie McWilliams, the commissioner of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and chair of the Division II Management Council, moderated the discussion among panelists Debbie Ford, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Rob Redding, the head athletic trainer and assistant athletics director for sports medicine at Henderson State University, and Derek Schell, a former student-athlete from Hillsdale College.

Schell, who is now a certified health coach, spoke about his experience coming out as a gay man at a conservative college. For most of his college career, Schell said he felt pressured to remain closeted, but during his senior year he became more open about his sexual orientation, telling his basketball coach and teammates and then sharing his story on Outsports.com, a website focusing on LGBTQ issues in sports. Along with receiving an overwhelming number of responses to the article – more than 4,000 personal Facebook messages flooded in that week – Schell was embraced by his team. “They had my back,” he said. “I finally had my coaches and my teammates in my corner.”  

Redding also talked about his decision to come out as an employee in the Henderson State athletics department –  a positive experience, he said, thanks to the diverse culture of his workplace. His decision was driven by a desire to “increase the visibility and to show people that it’s OK,” Redding said. 

Throughout the panel – and in meetings and forums before it – the student-athlete’s influential role in diversity and inclusion-related issues rose to the forefront. “One of the main takeaways from this convention is the power of the student voice,” Ford said. The chancellor was inspired by a meeting Thursday among the Division II Presidents Council, Management Council and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which focused on social justice issues and ways the groups could make an impact on campus.  “Your willingness to take the time to engage in conversations so you can get to know one another was so powerful,” she told the SAAC members in the crowd. “So keep talking. Keep us talking. Keep modeling the way for us as administrators and educators.”