This work was here before me, and this work will be here after I am gone. I will not let it break me. These are words I whisper to myself during my difficult moments. I love the work that I get to do in diversity, equity, and inclusion, but at times it can be exhausting. Difficult conversations, articulating my worth despite my credentials, demonstrating change, explaining the need for the work, and struggling to be comfortable in certain spaces.As an African American man with albinism, I have fought many battles through the years. It was not until I found myself — through my personal growth and progressive education as a psychologist — that I truly understood my worth. I AM ENOUGH, and I want you to know that about yourself as well. YOU ARE ENOUGH. Some may say otherwise, statistics may show deficits, education gaps may persist, legislation may not yet protect you, and unequal pay for equal work may hold you back. Nevertheless, you are enough!
We continue to make progress in our country toward being more inclusive, but the digressions have been painful. The right time for justice and equality is always now, we cannot afford to wait. Therefore we soldier on against the grain despite the fatigue. I am honored to work in a place where I am appreciated for who I am and what I bring to the space.
In my current work within athletics, I am blessed to interact with student-athletes from all different backgrounds and high-caliber colleagues. I am in awe of the level of expertise that I get to observe from the student-athletes, administrators, and coaches across my department and on campus. People who work together as one form teams moving unified toward their goals and objectives with hopes of victory. The work put in behind the scenes is epic. I am particularly impressed by the student-athletes who spend hours on preparation, studying, and community work, all while working to maintain a social life. This is the complicated journey of the modern-day college student-athlete. I believe that our student-athletes are under substantial pressure. They have access to more information than any other generation. It is hard to miss the headlines. They are adored, vilified, revered, and some may be ‘canceled’ when they make a mistake. Student-athletes have found their power and they continue to better understand their abilities to have an impact. It is a highly complex web of money, algorithms, and influence. It all happens fast, and the stakes are higher than ever. This is a tightrope that many of our students and student-athletes walk, seldom stopping to think about the impact that this pressure is having on their ability to stay mentally well.
As I survey the current landscape of college athletics and higher education, I see five distinctive areas that continue to need attention: helping to raise concerns for students of color, increasing gender equity, providing support for people within the LGBTQIA+ community, supporting international student-athletes, and increasing access and opportunities for people with disabilities. The thread that ties all these areas together is mental health. As a professional in athletics with a background in mental health, I work hard to help people understand the negative impact of the marginalization of people in these communities. National issues have local implications, and in some cases, student-athletes are suffering vicariously with little support. Moreover, the people who these students are turning to, people like me and you, are being impacted by the same issues and are often stretched thin. In recent years, high-profile deaths by suicide have increased the urgency of caring for each other. Here are a few strategies that I would recommend for student-athletes, the general student body, and professionals to help maintain mental wellness as we face the challenges at hand.
• Calculate how much time you are spending weekly on your devices and reallocate 10% of that time to intentional self-care. Intentional self-care can include anything that brings you joy and adds to your progression.
• Take an inventory of your social media content and determine if you are recognizing positive or negative trends. If you tend to feel more stressed out after being on social media, decrease your time on the platform in question. This may take time as these platforms are designed to be addictive.
• Commit to reading something inspirational daily regardless of how short or simple it may be. Facilitating a positive mindset begins with consuming positive information.
•Work toward broadening your support network both personally and professionally. There are numerous benefits we gain from being able to share our successes and challenges with others.
•Journal about your journey and the things you have been able to overcome. These journal entries are great to look back on when we are in crisis to remember our resilience.
• Celebrate the small successes you experience. I keep all of the thank you notes I have received over the years and read them when I need inspiration.
We need courageous and mentally healthy leaders. I have thought extensively about how we can continue to make things better in our world. I continue to return to the importance of increasing kindness and respect for everyone. We need to see the humanity in each other. I think this begins with being more kind and respectful to ourselves. So, I implore you to take better care of yourself. We need you, but honestly, you need you most.
Dr. Lawrence Chatters is executive associate athletics director for strategic initiatives at the University of Nebraska.
This column originally appeared in the Jan.19, 2023, edition of Diverse magazine.