Strategies for Diversity and Inclusion Key to Collegiate Sports Programs

Updated Apr 22, 2016

041816_sportsINDIANAPOLIS—The message at this year’s NCAA’s Inclusion Forum is simple: diversity and inclusion are essential components to building a successful collegiate sports program.

How colleges and university will implement specific strategies to enhance diversity and inclusion is another story. That will undoubtedly prove to be a much more difficult task.

But hundreds of college officials—from athletic directors, coaches, faculty and student affairs personnel—have come here to at least begin the conversation that NCAA officials hope will translate into action.

“Tolerance is just the bare minimum of what we do,” said Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock, associate professor of political science and gender studies at the University of Southern California, who was one of several panelists to speak at the forum, which began Saturday and ends Monday. “We have to get past tolerance and get to solidarity.”

Still, the ongoing process of confronting “unconscious bias” is one that requires steady vigilance and work and goes much deeper than engaging in discussions about race.

Over three days, these participants are exploring the varying forms of inclusion with regard to distinct groups such as transgender athletes and persons with disabilities. They are also talking about race and gender privilege.

It’s a conversation that not many of them are having on their college campuses, which is why the annual pilgrimage to this forum has proved useful to so many in the past.

Last year’s protests at the University of Missouri, which led to a temporary boycott by the school’s football team, ignited a new level of discussion and debate across the nation about campus climate issues.

“The next generation of athletic directors will have to have these difficult conversations,” said Dr. Albert Y. Bimper Jr., a former student-athlete who later played in the NFL for the Indianapolis Colts.

Now the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Diversity, Inclusion & Engagement and an Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at Colorado State University, Bimper said that coaches should not shy away from engaging with students about controversial and heated topics that impact them directly.

Coaches, who are recruiting minority students to play at predominantly White colleges and universities where the overall percentage of students of color is remarkably low, should also be willing to engage in discussions about race with the prospective student and his or her parents, Bimper said.

“How does race map onto their priorities?” asked Bimper, of those tasked with the responsibility of recruiting athletes. “How do you find the opportunity to discuss race?”

While many colleges and universities have taken measures in recent years to ensure that diversity training is an essential component of their sports program, industry experts complain that the dismal number of Black and Hispanic coaches remains embarrassingly low and may have hampered any sign of progress.

“Hiring has been one of my biggest issues,” said Bimper. “How do we crack that code?”

Frustrated by the dismal number of minority coaches at the collegiate level, a group of well-known coaches such as John Thompson III, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Georgetown University, met last year to form the National Association for Coaching Equity and Development. It’s an ambitious strategy of pressuring colleges and universities to diversify their hiring practices when it comes to filling coaching positions.

In addition, colleges and universities have begun to establish clear guidelines over how best to protect transgender athletes who are currently protected under Title IX.

Helen J. Carroll of the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Chris Mosier, the executive director of GO! Athletes, said that schools should formulate policies and procedures that safeguard the privacy of transgender students. They point to the creation of gender-neutral locker rooms on some college campuses as a positive step in the right direction.