The North Texas athletic department announced the UNiTy initiative to focus on promoting diversity, equality and inclusion within its sports programs. The initiative is a nine-step program created to serve as a starting point for student-athletes and the department staff to address and enforce equality and bring awareness to social justice issues.
One of the main focuses within the athletic department for the UNiTy initiative plan is the allocation of funds for diversity, equality and inclusion by providing the necessary education to student-athletes and staff.
“I’m encouraged by the conversations we’re having as a society because people are listening to the positions and struggles that some continually face,” said Wren Baker, vice president and director of athletics. “There’s still a long way to go towards implementing greater social justice and equality for all and eliminating racism. The athletic department and the university are committed to helping bring in meaningful dialogue and education to make positive changes.”
The nine steps for the UNiTy initiative include:
- Allocating funds specifically for athletic department programming and facilitators focused on diversity, equality and inclusion to provide better education for student-athletes and staff.
- Developing a campaign to educate and register student-athletes to vote, and having coaches make time on election days for voting.
- Providing selected reading(s) for all staff members focused on diversity, equality and/or inclusion.
- Developing a plan to build a tribute to North Texas’ history in desegregating college football in Texas and emphasizing the overall importance of equality.
- Creating educational video board spots at games with messages from our student-athletes on diversity and inclusion.
- Facilitating conversations with North Texas leadership and student-athletes.
- Creating a personal responsibility pledge, which outlines individual responsibilities to create and promote equality, for all staff and student-athletes to sign.
- Adding questions to the annual student-athlete survey and senior exit interviews related specifically to minority student-athletes and their experience at North Texas.
- Creating an internship or graduate assistant position to assist the athletic executive team with diversity and inclusion initiatives.
The nine steps will be further expanded to meet the desires of the student-athletes and staff members in the future.
“Our mission is to build champions and prepare leaders,” Baker said. “Right now we need champions and leaders on these important issues in our country and this is going to be a primary focus for us as we move forward together.”
The athletic department started a video series entitled, “The Platform.” The series of videos is designed for student-athletes and athletic staff members to use their voices to create discussions about combating racism and the solutions needed to foster an environment of diversity and inclusivity in the world of sports.
For Part I and Part II of “The Platform,” Mean Green women’s basketball head coach Jalie Mitchell sat in a round-table discussion with junior soccer player Lana Hastings, junior track & field athlete Tatum Henderson and sophomore volleyball player Alysha Johnson.
“It’s important as a team to always stay united when you see the issues of racism,” Johnson said. “The people on the outside looking in need to recognize there’s a problem with racism, and the people who are victimized aren’t making their experiences up. It’s the ones who experience racism that see all of the issues and acknowledge the fact change is needed.”
One of the main talking points between Mitchell and the student-athletes mentioned in the two sessions was how the existing systems and institutions in the United States are not fully equal to women and people of color specifically.
Henderson, who currently studies history at North Texas, says she has yet to see American systems fully transformed to bring equality for all.
“Nothing in our society or community will change until things change in the systems,” Henderson said. “As someone who’s studied American history for a long time, I don’t think there will bring meaningful change for everyone until our country and its leaders take responsibility. These systems in our country continue to give advantages to white Americans and ignore minorities.”
The student-athletes also mentioned the impact institutional and systematic racism has had on American culture. Hastings says the way you can combat institutional and systematic racism is to both continually have conversations and educate others on the struggles of Black people in the United States.
“I’ve learned how institutional racism has put a burden on African Americans and the thought process in those conversations is about having to explain how the system works against us,” Hastings said. “That’s where you have to start in those kinds of conversations or nobody will understand what the problem is. The solutions start with education and I feel like people are afraid to talk about racism. In the process, you have to not just talk about it but you also have to put forth the effort and action into eliminating racism.”
Mitchell and the student-athletes in the discussion believe the education on anti-racism in schools, workplaces and public environments needs to be emphasized year-round rather than only occurring during the month of February, Black History Month.
“We mostly learn about Black history in February and if it could be a consistent learning experience for everyone it would be crucial,” Johnson said. “It’s the shortest month on top of that, and if our schools could talk about Black history throughout the rest of the year it’ll help people recognize the issues of racism that still exist.”
In September the NCAA Division I council granted all student-athletes and programs a day off from athletic activities and practices on Election Day to vote or participate in other civic activities.
The Division I Council provided member schools with educational tools and legislation matching the Student-Athlete Advisory Committees (SAAC’s) priority for increasing diversity and inclusion education through civic engagement.
“It’s important for everyone’s voice to be heard on Election Day because it’s a huge day for our country,” said North Texas football head coach Seth Littrell. “It was a great opportunity for our players and recognizing why their vote matters and they got to participate in their civic duty. At the end of the day, it’s our job as mentors and coaches, we’re still educators and we let the student-athletes know Election Day is very important.”
The decision by the NCAA Division I council to enforce a day off of athletic activities on Election Day is the first SAAC proposed legislation since 2014.
“Getting that full-day opportunity to was huge,” said North Texas sophomore quarterback Jason Bean. “This was the first time schools have enforced this and it’s great on our part as student-athletes to make sure everyone went out and voted. People have not been taking voting very seriously and it’s something we needed to put some emphasis on.”
The university and the athletic department’s plan with the UNiTy initiative are to continually promote a diverse and inclusive environment throughout the entire university.
Baker and the athletic director staff said they plan to work with student-athletes and other athletic department members on elevating a platform to reflect on the social injustices. The way the athletic director staff members will be implementing their stances are establishing levels of respect, compassion and empathy in relationships of student-athletes and athletic department staff members.
“The student-athletes are very passionate and love each other trying to seek and understand the different perspectives,” Baker said. “They can be the leaders in those conversations. If we use this opportunity to listen and learn to work together we could make some big advancements in our department, on our campus and within the community.”
Featured Illustration by Olivia Varnell