In November 2016, Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator Liz Darger attended NCAA 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. Since then BYU has been developing a stronger relationship with the NCAA Office of Inclusion.
BYU’s President Kevin J Worthen and Athletic Director Tom Holmoe recently invited Amy Wilson, director of the NCAA’s Inclusion office, to campus to speak with different groups of students and employees.
Darger spoke with Wilson about her experience discussing those issues at BYU.
Liz Darger: What is the role of Office of Inclusion at the NCAA?
Amy Wilson: Our main responsibilities at the Office of Inclusion are to provide education and programming for the NCAA membership in five areas: race and ethnicity, women, LGBTQ, student athletes with disabilities and international student athletes. Much of my work is directly supporting the membership in their efforts to create diverse and inclusive environments that allow student athletes to reach their potentials and their goals.
LD: What is the NCAA Common Ground initiative?
AW: The overall goal of Common Ground was to bring together student-athletes, staff, advocates and allies, and athletic administrators from faith-based and public schools to discuss ways to create more inclusive and respectful environments and experiences for NCAA student-athletes and staff of all sexual orientations, gender identities and religious beliefs. The first Common Ground was held in 2014, and we are now planning Common Ground III for November.
These conversations are important because they focus on the overall well-being of our student-athletes across the country as well as the welfare of those who teach and lead them. We want to provide the best possible experience for all involved in intercollegiate athletics.
LD: With whom did you meet at BYU?
AW: It would be easier to tell you about with whom I didn’t meet! It was two full days of very meaningful interaction. I met with many students, including the Student Athlete Advisory Committee, BYUSA officers and LGBTQ students. I met with all of the coaches in the athletic department and many of the athletics staff. I spent some time with Athletic Director Tom Holmoe and the Athletics Senior Leadership Council. I had a great conversation with some of the football staff, particularly Coach Kalani Sitake. I met with several campus senior administrators including President Worthen and the Title IX coordinator. It was a very comprehensive visit, and I had a chance to talk to and connect with almost every area of campus.
LD: What did you discuss in those meetings?
AW: The purpose of my visit was to provide some foundational information and to spark some thinking about diversity and inclusion. We discussed what it means to be an ally, not just in name but in action. That an ally is a member of a majority group who speaks up and acts to ensure that all members of a community or team are treated with respect and dignity. We talked about the concept of privilege and how we shouldn’t be defensive about having privilege, but rather we should work to understand our privilege and the experiences of others who don’t have certain privileges. When we really engage with others’ lived experiences, it leads to understanding and connecting with others in new ways that allow us to support each other with compassion and love.
We discussed that there are LGBTQ persons on every campus, including BYU’s campus. We talked about the importance of continuing to understand what LGBTQ means; that education is so important because often our fear and stereotypes are a result of ignorance. When we are silent about certain populations on campus, that is often experienced as rejection. We had great dialogue about positive team cultures in athletics and how those can be developed through language and behaviors that respect diversity and value inclusion. Some of the greatest learning took place in the sharing of personal stories, both of my own and other persons in the room — particularly student-athletes. It was powerful to share stories and to understand each other’s journeys.
LD: How did you feel about coming to BYU?
AW: When I was invited, I perceived sincere and genuine interest in this initiative, and I welcomed the opportunity to come and talk about it at greater length.
The evening I arrived at BYU, I was feeling a little trepidation about my meetings the next day. I wondered if my message would be the right one, how it would be received, and if I could make a positive difference. I picked up a book of BYU speeches there in the University Guest House and flipped to a random page in the middle of the book. That particular page included a speech by a BYU professor who spoke about inclusivity and the need to care about all of our brothers and sisters – not just tolerate them, but genuinely welcome them for who they are. That was powerful to me. It was an inspiring message to read before my interactions on campus. It also led me to think about my own unconscious bias – stereotypes that are developed outside of conscious awareness. I asked myself, “What are you bringing to this conversation that has been influenced by stereotypes?”
It was a great learning experience – an important reminder that we need to be open-minded when we enter new spaces and be willing to see people’s hearts and who they really are. We tend to lump people in a large group and say, “that LDS Church,” or “those Mormons, they do this or they do that.” If we can’t move past that and talk to the actual people who are living in those spaces every day, we are never really going to find common ground.
I was welcomed with kindness and respect by all persons and in each conversation at BYU. Whether it was just a few students, or a room full of the athletic department staff, there was a real willingness to listen and to learn from each other. I sensed during my visit from start to finish that BYU is intent and sincere about creating a campus culture where all feel welcomed and valued.