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Women in Sports Leadership: A Q&A with Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes

What are your responsibilities in your role as athletic director at Dillard University?

As athletic director at Dillard University, I serve as the executive officer responsible for all aspects of the athletics program. This includes being the spokesperson for the program and advising President Kimbrough on all matters pertaining to athletics. My day-to-day responsibilities include budget management, personnel decisions, monitoring academic eligibility and compliance rules, athletic insurance claim review, fundraising, game-day management, sports information, marketing, and facility usage.

Recently you were named interim commissioner for the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). What are your short-term goals for the conference?

Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes, Director of Athletics at Dillard UniversityDr. Kiki Baker Barnes, Director of Athletics at Dillard UniversityMost interim positions are designed to hold down the fort until someone is hired as the permanent employee. My role has been a bit different. My goals have included ensuring the long-term sustainability of the conference. I have been actively recruiting new institutions and building relationships that may bear additional resources in the future. While I am certainly focused on the short-term operational aspects of the conference, I keep my mind set on the future so that the new commissioner can come into a conference positioned for growth.

Much of the NAIA consists of small private and faith-based institutions committed to “Character-Driven Athletics.” We have a unique platform called Return on Athletics® that helps our member institutions to analyze the financial impact of athletic programs on enrollment using data. This has been a game-changer for our members as we continue to look for creative ways to increase enrollment and retention.

The NAIA was the first athletics association to allow HBCUs to compete for championships. The NAIA National Men’s Basketball Championship, hosted in Kansas City, is also the longest-running collegiate basketball championship and the NAIA is the only association that offers a national championship in competitive cheer and dance. Relationships among the members are quite cordial. That doesn’t mean competition isn’t fierce. Like the NCAA, there are intense rivalries in the NAIA, which make for some great conference competition and spirited national championships.

Many HBCUs are gearing up for the fall football classics. Dillard and Xavier compete in the annual Bleu Devil Classic in basketball. How much longer will it take for it to eclipse the Bayou Classic?

This has been my vision since I started the Bleu Devil Classic in 2008. It has the potential to become one of the biggest HBCU basketball games in the nation. The game easily sells out Dillard’s gymnasium, so I moved it to a larger venue in 2020. That was a very successful move, but the pandemic halted the classic in 2021. I am looking forward to continuing a bigger and better Bleu Devil Classic soon.

Should student-athletes use their platforms to address social issues?

Dr. Kiki Baker Barnes, Director of Athletics at Dillard UniversityDr. Kiki Baker Barnes, Director of Athletics at Dillard UniversityCommunication skills are considered to be one of the most valuable skills to job hunters. Because student-athletes are STUDENTS first, their ability to effectively communicate is critical to their personal development. My dissertation research was focused on how coaches influence student success. A key finding of that research was that coaches have a strong influence on [students’] personal development. Learning to utilize their voice is a critical part of their personal development. As educators, athletic administrators and coaches can be partners in helping students develop their voice by listening to their perspectives and then providing feedback. Student-athletes don’t need to be told what to think. We have a responsibility to teach them how to think and then communicate their thoughts effectively. A fully developed student-athlete who has been supported and challenged would know how to use their platforms responsibly to advocate for social and intellectual issues they are passionate about.

How does diversity come into play in your role and at an HBCU?

Diversity is at the core of excellence. I am used to achieving success in endeavors I lead or am involved in. Skill does not have a specific color, gender, or age. When you have a clear understanding of the profile and unique skill sets needed to get the job done, you have the right set of glasses on to consider candidates that you may overlook due to your own personal bias. I’ve learned that having the best-skilled people that the budget will allow is essential to having a successful team. Candidates should be viewed only through the lens of their skills, experience, and qualifications. Once institutional leaders can universally hire from this viewpoint, we will see an improvement in diversity and inclusion.

Diversity is not only a race issue. HBCUs are very diverse institutions with many people coming from various races, geographical areas, ideologies, and gender identities. I have built a team based only on the qualities of candidates, which has resulted in a very diverse team of excellent professionals.   

Did you play any sports in high school, college or professionally?

Yes. I was a cheerleader, ran cross country and track, and played basketball in high school. In college, I ran track and played basketball. I still hold the triple jump record at the University of New Orleans. 25 years ago (my senior year in college), I had the opportunity to try out for the WNBA in its inaugural year in 1997.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

I love music and I am fascinated with technology. I probably own every Mac product available. When I am not working, I am either playing my bass guitar or learning new technology. I’ve learned about HTML, how to build a website and tons of other cool ways to automate tasks that make me a more efficient executive.

This article originally appeared in the October 14, 2021 edition of Diverse. Read it here.

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