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Racial Diversity In College Athletics: NIU’s Frazier, Wyoming’s Jude & EIU’s Michael

Guest Sean Fraizer, Northern Illinois; China Jude, Wyoming; Tom Michael, Eastern Illinois; Chad Chatlos, Ventura Partners
25:44 min watch


Northern Illinois Athletic Director Sean Frazier, Wyoming Senior Associate Athletic Director/SWA China Jude, and Eastern Illinois Athletic Director Tom Michael sit down with AthleticDirectorU for a conversation about racial diversity, lead by Ventura Partners’ Chad Chatlos. The trio speaks on hiring practices, diversity and inclusion training, onboarding and integrating individuals into a new culture, and more.


Click the timestamp below to jump to a specific question/topic:

  • - What have you seen in athletic departments and universities to enhance and have diverse cultures?
  • - What do you think are the biggest challenges for minorities in leadership positions right now?
  • - What kind of advice do you have for those who are hiring to be more open to backgrounds and beliefs that don’t necessarily align with theirs?
  • - Where has there been growth and where there’s still room for improvement for diversity inclusion trainings, tools, aids, agendas, etc.?
  • - How do you bleed and create a culture that’s blending the culture that you want to create in your mission with the personal beliefs of an individual that you’re bringing in?
  • - What are some of the things that you do to try to make sure that individuals feel valued for what they’re saying as opposed to just being heard?
  • - Is athletics following and the university's lead or is athletics out in front of the university as it comes to diversity and inclusion?

Full Transcript


Chad Chatlos: Welcome to another session of Athletic Director U. My name is Chad Chatlos with Ventura Partners, lucky enough to be joined by three elite people in college sports today. We’re going to talk a little bit of diversity and inclusion. So first question to the group, talking about the climate, the current climate of diversity and inclusion and what have you seen in athletic departments and universities to take action to make sure to enhance diverse cultures and to have diverse cultures across the athletic departments and universities? We’ll start with you Sean.


Sean Frazier: Well, there’s definitely an upswing. You know, we’ve had some real positive growth, especially with women in, in leadership roles, director athletic roles, senior administrator roles. I think racial diversity, maybe a little bit not so much. We’ve seen some positives in the senior staff role, but there’s definitely some room for growth. There are some challenges associated with it. I think, you know, diversity and inclusion has changed during the course of time. It’s interesting to take a look at where we’ve come from and where we need to go. But I think with the leadership that we’re starting to see, especially at the NCAA, different national governing bodies, there’s definitely some energy and some momentum around that.


CC: Okay.


China Jude: I definitely agree with you on that. We’re really fortunate to now be able to have comfortable conversations, and even individuals who may feel uncomfortable, they’re starting to open up to discuss what are some of those challenges that they are having. And so, of course, with a number of organizations, including diversity and inclusion discussions, and many of the educational programs, initiatives on campus, guest speaking engagements, I mean, it is a topic that is continuously being discussed, and I’m very hopeful.


CC: Yeah. Okay.


Tom Michael: Yeah, Chad, I think that, you know, there’s a tough reality out there with it too, because there’s a balancing act that, that we’re all trying to, to manage a little bit with status quo and traditions that are taking place on all of our campuses. And, you know, that difficulty is such that sometimes those conversations are difficult, but I think it’s trying to mention, it’s easier to have that conversation now. And when we understand that the differences that we can all bring to the table makes our units and our departments stronger because of those differences, then we’ve got a chance to continue to move forward.


CC: Okay. Let’s start with you on this one, Tom. What do you think are the biggest challenges for minorities in leadership positions right now?


TM: Well, I think that, that at times it’s, are their voices being heard? Is it… why are these… why are they in these positions? Is it, is it because it’s deserved? Or, is it because it’s filling something that people want to see? And, and I think it’s important in those situations that, that we really ask those questions about, what is your opinion, give them value for why, why they are part of our staff, and what they can bring to the table to represent the culture of everybody that we have in our department.


CC: Okay.


CJ: Definitely, you know, the… sometimes we, we say that diversity is inviting someone to the dance; inclusion is to invite them to dance.


CC: Mm-hmm.


CJ: And so, including different ideas, thoughts, processes, cultures, subcultures, that makes a significant difference. The diversity definitely brings value and to creating a cohesive athletics department and sometimes it’s when you want to think outside of the box on some, some concepts that maybe has been recycled several times. Having a different opinion, a different experience can really contribute to success.


CC: Okay.


SF: China is right, you know, inclusive excellence, right. So, we’re all striving to win championships, graduate at a high level, be part of the core mission of an institution, you know, it comes down to access and opportunities. So, for me, you know, young people who are aspiring to be senior-level administrators, director of athletics, you know, I, looking at the numbers, I’m looking at back in 1997, of pulling out an old data sheet and I’m looking at 2019, it hasn’t changed very much. And if you’re an inspiring individual who wants to be in my chair or a senior administrator, you know, that’s disheartening. That takes the air out of the balloon. You know, I’m one of 14 African Americans at the FBS level. You know, there’s only one African American female that’s at the FBS level. You know, those are daunting things. And for the access and opportunity, the entry-level positions, you know, we have some way… we definitely have a lot more work to do. But we also have to promote that hope, inspiring hope. So those young people see themselves in these roles. So we get the best and brightest that stay in the profession.


CC: Okay. Interesting question here. So when a president hiring AD or an AD hiring coach or a senior administrator goes to hire, a lot of times they want people who align with their beliefs. And so, if they’re a white male, per se, you know, and they’ve grown up with certain things and certain backgrounds, they’re going to gravitate to what they know. How do you… what kind of advice or how would you challenge the hiring entity to be more open to backgrounds and beliefs that don’t necessarily align with theirs?


SF: You know, it’s… I think I just jumped in there.


CC: No, go ahead.


SF: Yeah. You hit a chord.


CJ: Yeah.


SF: Yeah, I had once, as an administrator asked me a good question, you know, does he or she speak my language?


CC: Right.


SF: You know, it was interesting to have that conversation because at that age, I really didn’t know what he was talking about. But what you’re just describing, exactly that. You know, to be well read, to be well researched is to understand this profession. And growing up in the profession, one needs to understand that from a professional standpoint, you need to make sure you gain all those experience points to be able to be here. So I think that, yeah, “speak my language” code word for a lot of different things culturally. And then there’s code word for, okay, how much do you know about this business? And what do you bring? What does your skill set actually bring to this process? So as it relates to diversity and inclusion, it’s all about the fit. And it’s also seeing that this individual can bring a lot to the table and quite frankly, move the agenda. So that… without getting into real specifics, you know, speak that language is very similar from a cultural standpoint as well as understanding our profession.


CJ: We have to also take into consideration it’s going back to the mission of the institution. And when it comes to recruiting students, from all walks of life, of course, that you need to make sure that faculty, staff, coaching staff should be a part of that inclusion, if we’re going to recruit, retain and retain our students and graduate them. So it’s very, very important for us to take into consideration if we’re going to speak the same language, it should always draw back to the institution mission, the core values. I mean, we spend a lot of time putting it on the website.


CC: Yeah.


CJ: So, how are we going to be able to hold ourselves accountable for what we put on the website for those particular statements? So I’m in a unique situation. I’m from Chicago, Chicagoland area, moved from New York City after seven years serving as an athletics director and now I’m in Wyoming.


SF: Yeah.


CJ: I am totally on paper, a fish out of water, but I do speak the same language as my wonderful athletic director, Tom Burman.


TM: Chad, I think in similar as China’s described her background, I grew up in a small town in southern Illinois with 450 people. Diversity was male, female, young and old. And then I get an opportunity to go to the University of Illinois and play basketball. And diversity is, is at every turn. And what a, what a great opportunity and experience for me that has absolutely transformed me as an executive now in college athletics to understand, to believe and see the importance of what that diversity means in everything that we do. Because the difference in all of us is, is ultimately what makes us better and stronger as a department and, and individuals as well.


CC: Now, let’s talk about diversity and inclusion training a little bit, someone who is a former Marine Corps officer and someone who’s worked in the corporate sector, you know, most of my life, I’ve had number, number of different styles of diversity and inclusion training. I don’t know that that’s involved, you know, as much as it probably should have at this point, what have you all seen from it, from a diversity inclusion training, tool, aid, agenda that where there has been growth and where there’s still room for improvement to whether it be your athletic department or as a university as a whole, what have you seen? Let’s start with you, China, on this one.


CJ: Well, you know, I’m seeing it from a national perspective with MOAA. You know, Sean served as a president of the Minority Opportunities Athletic Association. And so, we created a one-day symposium where individuals throughout all of the NACDA affiliates can participate and when it comes to different program initiatives, best practices, etc. And so, we are continuing to grow in that particular space to be that, that leading organization when it comes to diversity and inclusion. I’ve been involved in a number of trainings on my campuses dealing with microaggressions. How do we create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community? Even at Wyoming, Native Americans. So we’re, we’re creating opportunities for the dialogue, creating programming, and then also having some measurement strategies on making sure that we have some success throughout that entire system.


CC: A great answer.


TM: I think it absolutely just starts at the top. And whether that’s president or, or as an athletic director, being able to have those conversations with your staff and it’s, it’s how you operate. If it’s a priority in your conversations, if it’s, if it’s a topic in which, in which you discuss and, and make it a forefront of what we’re talking about, then it permeates throughout and it’s just not, “Oh, we’ve got to search. What’s the pool look like?” Now it becomes part of our fabric and what we do every day, how we interact with each other, how we interact with our student athletes, how we interact with the young people that come to our campus as recruits. So if it’s, if it’s made up in that, and it becomes more of what we’re doing as an everyday process, as opposed to just an every once in a while thing, that doesn’t, that doesn’t work. So trying to make sure that we ingrain that with everybody, whether it’s our coaches, our staff, and even our student athletes.


CC: Right.


SF: You know, it’s interesting, just listening, listening, and understanding the education or we’re on a college campus. So everything we do is to create a shared agenda, to create a level of discourse around education of inclusive excellence, diversity and inclusion, Anything that we do, it’s all about throwing the rope back over the fence and pulling someone over to understand and comprehend these particular issues. So that’s, that’s, you know, looking at training, and some of them you know, some of them folks are go to training and they have one mindset when they walk in and they say, “You know, I’m here, I really don’t want to be here. I’m here because I have to be here. And I’m here, you know, you know, because I want to be here because I want to learn more.” So you have those particular groups in the audience and training. But I, you know, over time, it’s interesting, you have an opportunity during these trainings to talk about how this benefits you, individually, unit wise, and collectively in society. So I think trainings do work. I think the follow up and a plan and measurable goals work a little bit better. In my, my experience, I think it starts with the training and then the follow up on a, you know, that a mentor told me one time, he says, “There’s no substitute for daily preparation.” So daily preparation and understanding how diversity and Inclusion principles fold into the day-to-day operational practices, then it’s seamless, then it becomes a situation where it’s not an afterthought. So I think training is, is something that is good, but it’s the first step on a larger process.


CC: Okay.


CJ: And I do want to point out that Northern Illinois University won an award for diversity and inclusion initiatives. And so, I hope that Sean would be able to speak on that, you know, throughout this interview, because he’s been doing some very good programs.


SF: I’ll pay you, China, for this.


CC: I was going to say…


CJ: Well, he…


CC: Wasn’t that before you were there.


CJ: Doing great things recognized by MOAA and the NCAA on a number of initiatives. And what we want to try to do is to recognize institutions, organizations, as well as champions of diversity and inclusion through the Minority Opportunities Interest Committee to put those best practices together, and to be able to share. There are some wonderful things out there and they have been doing there.


CC: Got an interesting question. So as a leader, you know, in your departments, how do you, especially as the department is becoming more diverse, and you’re seeking that diversity, how do you bleed and create a culture that’s blending the culture that you want to create in your mission and then these individual person’s beliefs that you’re bringing in? They aren’t going to be necessarily immediately aligned with everybody else in the department. How do you…?


CJ: I want to jump in on that.


CC: Yeah, I see you.


CJ: At University of Wyoming, very open mind, very open-minded institution. And so, what we’re doing is we’re educating. I oversee staff and professional development. So I’m bringing in guest speakers, many from historically Black institutions, non-traditional institutions, and we’re having some open dialogue. Along with that, we’re also making sure that all of our search committees include a woman and an ethnic minority. Now, many times that ethnic and the minority of me, because it’s a very small population in the athletics department. But it’s at least giving the individuals on the search committee the opportunity to talk, to learn more about not only the search process, but where to actually recruit people and utilize MOAA lot. We look at other organizations where there’s a large population of diversity, ethnic minority specifically, and to have those types of conversations so they can feel more comfortable each process that moves along. And then we also try to tie it into our strategic plan. And it always leads right back to the mission and the engagement of the institution and the backing of the president.


CC: Okay.


TM: I think it’s important to remember and recognize that we’re just not putting a collection of people together, but we’re bringing in a group of individuals that have unique perspectives. They have a voice. They have a right to be heard. They have a responsibility to be heard in those settings. And, and when we do that, we help shape the culture of each of our departments so that we get all of those perspectives that are necessary because when we do that, now we can make the best decision as opposed to just having a tunnel-vision perspective of it and now we’ve got perspectives from, from each participant and, and making sure that they know that that’s important for them to get that feedback.


CC: Yeah.


SF: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, it reminded me I’m dealing with a with a study, the National Study of Intercollegiate Athletics at NSIA. It’s a, it’s, it really goes through a process of review of the culture. You had mentioned culture. You had mentioned different folks coming from different backgrounds. The NSIA actually was constructed to go in and actually take the data from an institution, take a look at the cultural norms as well as the things that are currently going on within that structure to promote and to use that to promote diversity and inclusion. So Dr. Jerlando Jackson from the Wisconsin Equity and Inclusion LAB, the Wei LAB, what with inventories attempt to do and have done when we were a pilot school at NIU was to say, “Okay, this is your culture, how do we then take your culture and to flip that and to move issues around women and ethnic racial minorities to make it a safe environment, but also more importantly, so we can recruit to our current culture?” So that’s, that, that culture pieces is interesting because, again, you’re going to meet different people, different beliefs, and you’re going to have to get them all working together, for quite frankly, the greater good.


CC: Yeah. I think in our line of work too, what we’ve seen, at least especially in the last five years, diversity for us just be, “Hey, we need to have a diverse pool because we need to,” right, it’s the right thing to do. Now, it’s more like we… no, we want to hire a diverse. A guy, when I spoke at the college basketball convention conference two weeks ago, and I told an African American coach, I said, “This is your time, because guess what an athletic director wants to hire you.” I mean, as opposed to filling the need, Rooney Rule, whatever to have someone in the mix, that this is, hey, they look around and they see a less diverse athletic department and they want to make it more diverse. So I think we’ve even seen it on the search firm side is that desire, apples to apples of the candidates, they’re going to go diverse a lot of times. So I think starting to see movement in that way too. Last question. When you bring… like, when you create this diversity, this culture of diversity and you bring people in, how do you, as a leader, especially when, again, people are coming from various backgrounds, what are some of the things that you do to try to make sure that they feel valued and heard and not, and I should say, valued for what they’re saying as opposed to just being heard? How do you, how do you, as a leader, how do you go about making sure you do that?


SF: Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, the induction process is so important, because you’re in a situation where you take it for granted, because you’re in the day to day of the culture, going back to the cultural piece that, that, that I just spoke about. So the whole issue about bringing that individual in, and I just had a recent, a new hire, and she came in, she was coming from all away, we had some similar backgrounds, but she didn’t know NIU. And then the whole component of getting to know the different personalities. So I think it’s really important for us and in some of the things that we do as we go through that process of induction from setting up, obviously, big brother, big sister to help within the department, and then scheduling meetings with that individual while the mentor is in the room to help understand. So after the meeting is over with, there’s going to be a lot of questions. Well, you know, she said this, she said that, and then the mentor can kind of, you know, digest and kind of go back and say this is exactly what we do here at NIU. It might be a little different than maybe the institution you came from. But I think taking the time, we took a full week, which I can’t believe how well it went. Because of the fact that it’s a lot of time to induct someone over a week’s time, and then over the month to recap those particular meetings, because then we had to go through a process of getting those individual across campus and the community. So after we boil it all down, it was very refreshing for the individual to say, “You know what, I’ve never gone through something like that. You took a lot of time, where a lot of folks people just throw you in and say, ‘You know what, good luck. I hope it works out for you.’”


CC: Yeah. Go to work, right?


CJ: And then something I’ve actually learned. I’m a member of the Society of Human Resource Managers, also known as SHRM. And we learn about the onboarding process which is crucial when it comes to retention of staff. And so, what we also have at the University of Wyoming is we have a thought beyond the brand, which is a program to nurture our female coaches and staff. We have, of course, a large population of men on the staff. And so, we want to make sure that we’re creating opportunities for programming, networking with each other. The women, networking with each other is really important. And then, so, we’re also from a university perspective, talking about forming affinity groups. And that’s very, very important. There’s been a lot of conversation across the campus on how athletics, the strategies that athletics use, how can they use it on the other side of campus as well. So we’re serving as that model from the university perspective. And so, it’s about retention of our staff and our coaches. So we’re continuously having those individual conversations with staff members on what will it take. We have exit surveys. We also have end-of-the-year surveys with our coaches as well as our staff and we analyze that data and make sure that we’re listening to all of our employees on what are some of the ways that we can retain them and give them a good experience.


TM: I think to follow up a little bit with, with what Sean said about the induction piece is, is then the follow up is, “Hey, we just didn’t bring you here to fill a position, but we’ve done the work to make sure that that you’re settled,” but then to follow up with them to make sure that that piece is still in a good place. And then I think it’s, I think it’s incredibly important for us as leaders was… as you’re establishing that culture, that culture to be able to go back to them and, and really make sure whether it’s in a staff meeting setting, how do you feel, what your opinion. It’s going back to their office, not having them come to yours, but go to their office and sit down and really make sure that they understand that their opinion is valued, that, that you do want them to have that voice that’s going to be able to speak at different times on different tough topics because of that perspective that they can bring to the table that’s valuable as you make those decisions. Because when you do have more of that information, now we can all make better decisions, and that ultimately is, is part of the entire process.


CC: Last question and quick answer. Who’s leading the way? Is university… is athletics following and the university lead or is athletics out in front of the university as it comes to diversity and inclusion? Kind of tricky. I’m putting you on the spot a little bit.


SF: Yeah ,that’s a tough one.


TM: Well, I would, I would like to think that, that athletics, in our environment, I would like to think that athletics certainly has, has the vehicle to do that and we’re nowhere where we need to be, but I think that we are we are setting the tone for the rest of the campus to look at and, and see what we can do to help that piece.


CJ: It’s a toss because we are working together, you know. We do have a Council of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. And we just hired about a year, a year and a half ago hired the first Chief Diversity Officer for the university. So I believe it is a joint effort and it’s growing. But yeah, there are some templates, there are some models that we do in athletics that they look our way and to try to utilize that as a strategy. So I like to, I’m going to be PC.


CC: Good for you. Good for you.


SF: I would agree too. You know, it’s interesting, I, about two now, three years now, I was on a chair, I was co-chair of the diversity task force for our campus then that some of the outcomes were hiring a CDO, Chief Diversity Officer. It depends, I’ve been at different places where the institution has been far out and I’ve been in other places where athletics has really set the tone publicly. Because, again, you know, you know, it’s a platform. We have a very visible platform. So anything that we do around diversity and inclusion, inclusive excellence, you know, we have the ability to, to engage wide numbers of different people in different constituencies. So, you know, I might have to hit the line too, because, you know, my current institution have a great president, have a great system in place. It’s taken some time further to do that. But I would say that athletics is right in line, right with the core mission and leaning in some areas and the following in others.


CC: Okay. Great. Well appreciate everybody’s time.