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Collegiate sports embed DEI: Athletics departments hire DEI directors, require trainings
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Even student sports clubs have diversity and inclusion officers now

Many universities’ athletics departments, both public and private, now have statements, programs, and staff dedicated to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion narratives in collegiate sports, according to an analysis this month by The College Fix.

The University of New Mexico is currently hiring an associate athletics director for DEI and student-athlete development. Part of the job will be to “develop, facilitate, and implement the new diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) vision,” the online description states.

Earlier this year, Illinois State University advertised an open position for an assistant associate athletic director of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, with a salary of up to $75,000.

Some student sports clubs now boast diversity officers and “inclusivity” missions as well.

Northwestern University’s new Club Ski Team, which formed last year, has a diversity, equity and inclusion chair among its student officers, the Daily Northwestern reported.

A major shift to include DEI in sports appears to have begun around 2020.

That year, the NCAA began requiring every athletics department and conference to designate a staffer as the athletics diversity and inclusion designee, or ADID. Its announcement came in August 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the racial riots that followed.

“The ADID is instrumental in helping to advance inclusive excellence as we will share diversity, inclusion and equity-related programs, initiatives and resources with designees that directly impact our student-athletes and athletics departments and conferences in positive ways,” stated Niya Blair Hackworth, NCAA director of inclusion, at the time.

That same year, Michigan State University hired its first athletics DEI staffer to “develop and facilitate the implementation of programs specifically focused on staff and student-athlete diversity, inclusion and community outreach.”

Georgetown University created a similar role, an executive director for diversity, equity and inclusion for intercollegiate athletics that year, as did the University of Georgia and the University of Miami.

In one of her first actions in the role, University of Miami senior associate athletic director/administrator and chief diversity officer Renae Myles Payne began a nine-week “racial literacy” training program for athletic department employees, according to Insight into Diversity.

More universities added DEI athletics roles in subsequent years, including the University of Colorado Boulder, University of Washington, Temple University in Philadelphia, Pace University in New York, the University of Oregon, and Princeton University.

Others, including West Virginia University, Santa Clara University in California, and Clemson University in South Carolina, are among the schools that created DEI athletics committees or task forces in 2020.

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Student athletes are being recruited to promote DEI as well. In 2021, St. Joseph’s University, a private institution in Philadelphia, created a student working group to help facilitate discussions of DEI within the athletics department.

Its Athletics DEI Plan calls for students from each of its 20 varsity sports teams to attend leadership programs and then arrange diversity and inclusion discussions and activities with their teammates.

Meanwhile, USC Athletics has hired five justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion peer educators to lead the private university’s required biannual implicit bias trainings for student athletes.

At Penn State University, a Big Ten school, the athletics department has a whole section of its website dedicated to DEI.

Last year, the school sent three student athletes to a new Athlete Leadership Summit hosted by the LGBTQ group Athlete Ally to “discuss progress and the next steps in driving inclusivity nationwide.”

And at the University of Washington, athletics programs include Husky Pride, which provides “an avenue to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, equity and access.”

Notably, the public university requires DEI training for its coaches and staff through a program called The 3L (Listen, Learn, Lead) Series. According to the UW athletics department website, all “staff and coaches are expected to attend two sessions” per year. Topics include “How to Create a Culture of Anti-Racism,” “Bias & Microaggressions,” and “Cultural Humility.”

Some universities even are calling DEI a “foundational” part of athletics.

In April, Northwestern University’s sports program published a new strategic plan that puts “a strong focus on making D.E.I. a foundation of everything Northwestern Athletics does.”

As part of this effort, its leaders have been touting DEI efforts right alongside team victories.

In June, Vice President for Athletics and Recreation Derrick Gragg mentioned the sports department’s decision to “purposefully advance” DEI in an article celebrating the lacrosse team’s eighth NCAA title and the women’s soccer team’s rank as 11th in the nation.

The College Fix contacted staff in the Northwestern athletics’ communications office several times this month, asking about its DEI efforts and any pushback from coaches or athletes, but none responded.

The situation is much the same at Youngstown State University in Ohio. Jaysen Spencer, director of athletic academic services, told The Jambar student newspaper in March that their athletics goals are centered around DEI.

“Everything we do needs to be done through a DEI lens, whether it’s hiring more diverse coaches, recruiting a more diverse student-athlete population and hiring diverse medical staff,” Spencer said.

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.