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NCAA Inclusion Forum builds collective voice

By Greg Johnson

The NCAA Inclusion Forum, conducted last week at the NCAA national office, provided an opportunity to show the level of membership commitment required to make progress on issues involving disabilities, international student-athletes, LGBTQ, race and ethnicity, and women in sports.

For three days, attendees heard educational sessions and keynote speakers on those topics with the common theme of bringing voices together to create a more inclusive environment in intercollegiate athletics.

Bernard Franklin, vice president of membership and student-athlete affairs and NCAA chief inclusion officer, said the forum reminded him of an example from his youth.

Many of Franklin’s relatives are Baptist ministers, so becoming involved in the fabric of the church was a given. While he didn’t desire to become a minister, he did join the choir and came to realize how powerful it is for individual voices to come together with one unified fashion.

“If you take nothing else from this forum, take that message back to your campuses,” Franklin told the audience on the final day. “That’s what we are trying to create in our inclusion initiative. Separately, we can be powerful, but we are far more powerful by joining our voices together.”

This is the second year the forum has operated with inclusion being the overarching premise. Previously, the gathering focused more on gender-equity issues. By broadening the base, organizers hope more stakeholders in intercollegiate athletics can be heard.

“We had networking opportunities between people who do the same type of work, and they got a chance to exchange ideas and best practice,” said Karen Morrison, NCAA director of gender inclusion. “We had a great lineup of sessions where people could connect on topics that they are passionate about.”

The lineup of speakers included Nancy Hogshead-Makar, senior director of advocacy for the Women’s Sports Foundation; Terdema Ussery, president and CEO of the Dallas Mavericks; Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, chief of sports performance at USA Track and Field; and Damon Williams, vice provost and chief diversity officer at Wisconsin.

The NCAA office of inclusion staff was pleased with preliminary feedback about the caliber of the educational sessions and keynote addresses.

“I’m not sure people realized what all they were going to get out of the caliber of speakers who were at the forum,” said Kimberly Ford, NCAA director for minority inclusion. “We had chief diversity officers who come from other side of higher education that probably wouldn’t have come to previous seminars. This creates an opportunity for engagement with a different group.”

One of Ford’s favorite educational sessions was titled “A Strategic Partnership: The Relationship Between the Chief Diversity Officer and Intercollegiate Athletics, Nothing But Benefits.” Ben Reese, the vice president for the office of institutional equity at Duke, was one of the panel members and said he didn’t’ recall campus diversity officers and intercollegiate administrators and former student-athletes coming together on a national level as they did in at the forum.

“An event like this can be used as a catalyst for change,” Ford said. “Oftentimes you hear that athletics is in a silo, and we want to change that. We want athletics embedded into the fabric of the campus and higher education. That’s when you have success.”

Morrison was pleased with the final two sessions of the forum, which focused on how to develop action plans on campuses and what inclusion advocates do next after receiving information at the forum.

“People have 1,000 ideas swirling around in their heads,” Morrison said. “There is a lot to translate and figure out what works on your campus and how to engage your campus community. I often heard people talking about the cross section of ideas and things that were coming to mind for them that they hadn’t considered before. That is what we hoped to do with this forum.”   

At the 2013 Inclusion Forum, the NCAA offered its support for the concept of equal opportunity for the participation of girls and women in sport at all levels as embodied in the Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport.  Marilyn Moniz-Kaho’ohanohano, chair of the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics and associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at the University of Hawaii, and Carole Oglesby, a representative of the International Working Group (IWG) for women and sport and a former president of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), praised the NCAA and the action taken by its executive committee to recognize the importance of issues surrounding female participation in sport.  

 The IWG is an organization in Helsinki, Finland that empowers women and advances their causes in sport, and is also credited with developing the Brighton Declaration on Women and Sport, which is supported in part and in whole by numerous sport organizations worldwide.