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Common Ground makes strides at University of Texas at Austin

About 80 people gather for fifth year of program that focuses on fostering inclusion and respect

Common Ground, a program created to establish inclusive and respectful environments for people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and faith perspectives, made some noteworthy steps as the program entered year five and was held for the first time at a public college — the University of Texas at Austin.

Common Ground welcomed to Austin close to 80 individuals interested in learning how to create inclusive spaces for individuals representing LGBTQ and faith-based populations. The program also helped individuals better understand how LGBTQ individuals, individuals of faith and those with other identities can work more cohesively on campus and create climates of trust and ways to open dialogue. The program was sponsored by the NCAA office of inclusion.

A facilitator led participants through the two-day program, with assistance from the Common Ground leadership team. The program centered around group and paired exercises to help individuals break down perceived stereotypes, recognize conscious and unconscious biases, and understand trigger words, phrases and actions, along with related terminology and definitions. Discussion also involved how to create safe spaces for LGBTQ athletes and allies. Program administrators focused on participants having a better understanding of different perspectives after completing the program, which allowed them to take what they learned back to campus. The participants then could share what they learned in an effort to bridge potential or existing gaps of understanding as they work toward supporting student-athlete well-being and development.

“Common Ground continues to be one of our most impactful NCAA inclusion programs because it allows participants the opportunity to have open and sometimes difficult discussions about creating safe spaces and respectful environments for all student-athletes and those who teach and lead them,” said Katrice Albert, NCAA executive vice president for inclusion and human resources. “Individuals leave with best practices, new ideas and strategies that they can use within athletics as well as the overall university structure, which helps in the development of inclusive climates on campus.

“I also want to thank the University of Texas athletics staff, especially Athletics Director Chris Del Conte and Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs Drew Martin, for their hospitality as hosts this year. They did a fantastic job making everyone feel welcome.”

Martin, who is also a member of the Common Ground leadership team, said hosting the program helped further the school’s mission of creating a diverse and inclusive environment. “Anytime we can bring a program like Common Ground, that centers around diversity and inclusion and how we can create an environment that is supportive of our student-athletes, coaches and administrators, to our campus at UT Austin, then we are going to take advantage of that opportunity.”

To reach student-athletes directly and discuss inclusive topics and perspectives, members of the Common Ground leadership team and Texas athletics administration met with Texas Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members. The leadership team introduced SAAC members to an abbreviated session of Common Ground programming where the athletes participated in one-on-one table discussions that focused on the impact of being marginalized, recognizing power and privilege and how to advocate for individuals who do not have it, and how athletes could help foster an inclusive culture at Texas. The leadership team members then hosted a panel session where they talked about experiences they’ve had on campus and in their communities.

In addition to the SAAC meeting, the Common Ground leadership team also held a session with Texas coaches and administration where they discussed patterns or issues they currently see around student-athletes, administrators and coaches, and general issues around campus and athletics cultures. A panel session also was held where the leadership team shared its experiences and the impact of those experiences.

Overall programming covered an array of topics. Participants discussed specific ways in which they could address or create action strategies for making collegiate athletics respectful and safe for student-athletes, staff and those of all religious perspectives on their campuses. Specific ideas included doing more to establish practices and policies that promote respect and inclusive climates such as supporting open dialogue sessions with student-athletes; being open to prayer sessions of all faiths; partnering with other organizations that promote all forms of inclusion, including LGBTQ; creating more mental health care for student-athletes aside from what they might receive through a campus counseling center; and designating a position or person who LGBTQ student-athletes could speak with if they experience problems.

“The NCAA office of inclusion and the Common Ground leadership team were excited for Common Ground V to be in Texas and to have the opportunity to engage with the University of Texas student-athletes, coaches and administrators,” said Amy Wilson, NCAA managing director of inclusion. “We will continue to develop and enhance Common Ground programming as we move forward with the open dialogue, education and inclusive action strategies that can be utilized on campus for the benefit and well-being of all student-athletes.”