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The NCAA recently invited about 40 individuals representing public and private colleges and universities, faith-based organizations and LGBTQ affiliations to come together at Common Ground II – a forum to explore how representatives of the LGBTQ and faith-based communities can work more cohesively in college sports and higher education. 

Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator Liz Darger                 Aaron Cornia/BYU Photo

Y News Editor Natalie Ipson sat down with Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator Liz Darger to talk about her experience attending Common Ground II as a representative from BYU.  

Natalie Ipson: First of all, what is Common Ground II?

Liz Darger: Common Ground II is a follow-up to Common Ground I, which took place in 2014. Its main goal is to establish inclusive and respectful athletic environments for participants of all sexual orientations, gender identities and religious beliefs.

The first Common Ground focused on building trust between these diverse groups and establishing a safe space to have important and vulnerable conversations. This second Common Ground was two days of finding that safe space to discuss what both groups can do to improve communication and understanding for the LGBTQ community and faith-based schools. It really focused on breaking down barriers and building relationships with the people there. That foundation was critical as we moved forward on the second day to discuss recommendations we could offer schools around the country.

NI: Who participated in Common Ground II?

LD: NCAA staff, athletic administrators from Divisions I, II, and III, conference commissioners, former and current student athletes and presidents and executive directors of various LGBTQ organizations. Some of the schools and organizations that were represented were Athlete Ally, Azusa Pacific University, Campus Pride, Center for Lesbian Rights, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Houghton College, LGBT SportSafe Inclusion Program, National Christian College Athletic Association, Point Loma Nazarene University, Texas Christian University and Wheaton College.

NI: How did you find common ground?

LD: The activities were designed to create meaningful discussion and required quite a lot of vulnerability and trust on everyone’s part. Throughout the facilitated discussions, and perhaps more so during discussions at meals and between activities, I was able to get to know the other participants and hear their stories. I was able to share about our faith with them. As we got to know one another, it became very apparent that we all care deeply about student athletes and young people in general.

One of the focal points of our discussions was the question “is it possible for faith-based institutions to follow their policies but still create a safe space for LGBTQ students?” I believe this answer is an absolute “yes!” There’s a lot of room for each side to seek to understand each other before criticizing one another. Meetings like Common Ground are a great way to join in that process. This group of people truly wanted to find common ground. That’s what is really exciting to me.

NI: What did you take away from the Common Ground II experience?

LD: I had some great conversations with those who attended Common Ground, and I feel like those who were there really wanted to come together to better understand and support one another. I experienced some vulnerability as the only Mormon there, but at the same time I felt supported in that vulnerability. There were a lot of hard conversations, but very rewarding moments came in the midst of those hard conversations.

I came away feeling a great amount of love for those I met and interacted with. I was humbled and strengthened by their courage and vulnerability.

I also came away with a lot of hope because I made friends with people who want to be a resource both to me in my work in the athletic department and also to the university.

NI: Why is it important that BYU be involved in opportunities like this?

LD: It shows BYU is committed to understanding others and helping others understand us. We need to continue to build and contribute to an empathetic and pluralistic society, and I think that always has to start at a personal, human level.