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Inclusion Insights: Northern Illinois

You Can’t Build an Inclusive Culture Alone - Q&A with Sean Frazier

Sean Frazier is the athletics director at Northern Illinois. Last year, Frazier was one of 13 African Americans serving as athletics directors at Football Bowl Subdivision schools. Northern Illinois University photo

CHAMPION MAGAZINE: What can campuses do to foster an inclusive culture?

SEAN FRAZIER: You cannot try to diversify the way you think you should if you’re not collaborative. Not just on the campus, but also in the community at large. It’s a top-down, side-to-side, all-the-way-around type of focus. We have a community. We have a campus. We have a regional community, and we have our alumni base. All of that has to be clicking for you to be successful. My advice would be to make sure that you’re reaching out to those different constituency groups. That is almost imperative for you to be successful in this area.

CM: How do you start that conversation?

SF: It comes down to having collaboration. You can have a collaboration with the local police department, with the accounting guy, with the mayor’s office. We’re out there collaborating with the local community, the local nonprofits, the local business owners. We want our relationships to be seen on a level where they are friendships. This is about creating a shared agenda.

If you don’t have a relationship and start from a standpoint of saying, “OK, we have an issue,” then trying to deal with it from there, it’s more of a caustic approach. Instead, see it as an ongoing process of having a focus on diversity and inclusion as a part of the discourse. We need to talk about race. We need to talk about gender. We need to talk about difference.

CM: How can athletics departments know their efforts are effective?

SF: I think ultimately race in America is always going to be a contentious type of conversation. It’s just our history. We need to accept that. I think we can do it in a safe space, though. It doesn’t have to be all the time rammed down one’s throat, but it needs to be appreciated and understood that there are going to be fundamental differences. It’s who we are as people.

I think if we can take that, understand that, appreciate that and apply it in a way where it’s an educational piece, especially on a college campus where we’re sending our young people to be educated for citizenship in today’s society, that’s the way we take on diversity and inclusion.