NCAA Addresses Diversity Concerns at National Conference - Higher Education

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NCAA Addresses Diversity Concerns at National Conference

by Michelle J. Nealy

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Promoting an inclusive environment that produces a diverse crop of collegiate sports administrators to address the needs of an increasingly diverse population of student-athletes is a priority for the NCAA, Charlotte Westerhaus, vice president of diversity and inclusion, said Wednesday during a seminar at the association’s national conference.

As part of its four-day convention that began Jan. 14, NCAA athletic directors, conference commissioners, athletic department administrators and college presidents discussed best practices for recruiting and retaining women and racial minorities into senior athletic administration positions, an area where both groups are underrepresented.

According to the “2006 Ethnicity and Gender Demographics” report produced by the NCAA, African-Americans composed 9.5 percent of all athletic administrators at Division I institutions, Hispanics made up 1.9 percent and Asians made up 1.2 percent of the NCAA administrative staff.

For colleges and universities eager to diversify their athletic department, particularly at the senior level, Dr. George Cunningham, associate professor of sports management and director of laboratory for diversity in sports at Texas A&M University, recommended that the existing college leadership first make diversity a priority by fostering a working culture or “ethos” that embraces differences in race, gender and sexuality.

“Employees must value diversity. Employees should have a value for learning from people who are different from them,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham also advised administrators to engage their staff in mandatory diversity training, including top-level administrators such as athletic directors and assistant athletic directors.

In taking steps toward hiring new employees of color, Cunningham recommended that top-level administrators engage in proactive hiring practices and work collaboratively with institutions like the Black Coaches and Administrators association to connect with prospective minority applicants.

Other experts such as Bill Bradshaw, director of athletics at Temple University, echoed Cunningham’s sentiments of intentionally trying to create diversity within an institution’s athletics staff.

Among Bradshaw’s recommendations for hiring: use targeted national advertising campaigns, utilize a diverse search committee, involve minority faculty and staff throughout the institution in the search and solicit honest feedback from persons of color who went through the process and succeeded and those who did not.

Women like Kelly Mehrtens and Dr. M. Dianne Murphy have climbed the ranks and assumed the highly coveted position of athletics director at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Columbia University-Barnard College, respectively.

Both women are successful, yet say there are challenges in student athletics that are unique to women.

“Medical schools are different now in that many of the applicants are women. Law schools are different now too,” said Murphy, “but athletics is one of the last bastions of male dominance.”

“[Women] have to work harder. The greatest challenge is assuring people that you are doing a good job as an athletic[s] director. I don’t have to be a football player to hire a good football coach,” Murphy said.

Mehrtens added, “It’s really about understanding expectations and understanding how to meet those challenges.”

In an effort to cultivate a more diverse group of student athletes, the NCAA hosted one of its first seminars focused solely on Hispanic student athletes, coaches and administrators.

During this session, Mark Cabrera, a Hispanic soccer player at Palm Beach Atlantic University, spoke about some of the barriers that impede some Latino students’ matriculation into college.

Cultural expectations to work and stay close to home, language barriers and lack of information pertaining to college and financial aid contribute to the small number of Hispanic student-athletes despite the growing Hispanic population, Cabrera said. He recommended that the NCAA begin to publish more newsletters in Spanish and work more closely with high-school counselors to ensure that Hispanic students receive the information they need.

Other recruitment officials in attendance said institutions should engage Hispanic communities through strategic programming in middle and high school before students get to college.

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