At the University of Wisconsin, the athletic department uses a multi-pronged plan to ensure the effectiveness of its diversity inclusion programming.
By Doug Tiedt, Bridget Warren, & Sean Frazier
Doug Tiedt is Assistant Athletic Director for Academic Services, Bridget Warren is Director of Inclusion and Life Skills Programming, and Sean Frazier is Senior Associate Athletic Director for Operations at the University of Wisconsin. Their contact information can be found at
One of the great things about intercollegiate athletics is that it provides opportunities for students from different cultures, ethnicities, lifestyles, and belief systems to achieve a common goal. That goal can be furthered by developing diversity inclusion programming in an athletic department.
Here at the University of Wisconsin, we've been furthering our efforts in this area for several years. The keys, we've found, are to take the time to coordinate programs, seek input from student-athletes, and partner with others.
Today's college campuses tend to have many programs for minority students and today's athletic departments offer a variety of life skills programming options. But given student-athletes' time demands and commitments, it can be difficult for them to tap into these activities.
That's why one of our focuses for diversity inclusion is on coordinating programming. A first step was to create the position of Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator, who is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the Office of Academic Services' diversity related initiatives. This person, co-author Bridget Warren, also heads up our Life Skills program.
Another step we took was to develop the Diversity Integration Group (DIG), which coordinates both student and staff athletic department efforts concerning diversity and inclusion. The group strives to improve the student-athlete, coach, and staff experience through assisting them with the transition to UW campus life, increasing communication, linking with community resources, and providing training and leadership opportunities.
Comprised of athletic administrators, students, coaches, and alumni, DIG meets monthly. Its mission is to:
"Increase the qualitative campus experience for all student-athletes and staff by addressing the emotional, social, intellectual and physical needs of our diverse population. The Department of Intercollegiate Athletics recognizes student-athletes and staff of diverse backgrounds which include, but are not limited to: individuals of color (African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander, and American Indian), those who identify as LGBTQA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Ally), individuals of different genders and individuals with disabilities."
When our Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator started, one of her first tasks was to gather feedback regarding the experiences of our student-athletes, which she did through surveys and focus groups. The focus groups spurred further dialogue and two African-American women's basketball players took the lead to meet regularly to discuss relevant topics. The two invited others to join their meetings and the group soon grew into a registered student organization, Student-Athletes Equally Supporting Others (SAESO).
The group now has a board of directors and a constitution, and it meets monthly. Its mission is to bring together student-athletes of different cultures, ethnicities, lifestyles, and belief systems in order to enhance their experience on campus. The board of directors is elected by student-athletes during a SAESO meeting, and the president of the SAESO board also holds an officer position on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
SAESO impacts over 400 student-athletes annually by organizing events, forums, and programming that enhance the knowledge and experiences of our student-athletes. Examples of activities include Soul Food Night, diversity dialogues, after-school programs for middle school students, study jams, and a breast cancer awareness event in collaboration with a campus sorority. SAESO programs are inclusive and support all student-athletes, but specifically target student-athletes from underrepresented groups.
Another project that is fueled by student-athletes is the production of public service announcements during Black History Month, which highlight the successes of former African-American student-athletes. Current student-athletes record the announcements and the spots are shown on our video board, aired on the radio during men's and women's basketball games, and featured on the department's Web site.
We've also found success by partnering with others to develop programs. We have looked both on campus and in the community for help with such initiatives.
For example, in partnership with our athletic alumni association, we host a diversity barbeque during the summer. The event, which attracts over 150 individuals annually, includes a Southern-style barbeque, a brief program, and networking opportunities for student-athletes to connect with alumni and members of the Madison community.
In 2007, we started the Academic Athletic Mentor Partnership (AAMP), which pairs first year student-athletes of color with community members, former student-athletes, and faculty members. Mentors are asked to reach out and develop relationships with their mentees, and all attend monthly meetings with specific topics. The gatherings may include guest speakers, student-athlete panels, networking, and/or one-on-one discussions. Since its inception, AAMP has had 17 active mentors who have met with and mentored over 50 student-athletes.
Another program is called Career Links: Diversity Networking Event. Held each fall, the event is an opportunity for student-athletes of color to network with campus leaders, faculty members, community business leaders, alumni, and other students of color.
As a way to maintain an active connection with community members of color, the athletic department works closely with the group, 100 Black Men of Madison. Student-athletes participate in the annual 100 Black Men "Back to School Picnic" to pass out backpacks and school supplies to Madison's youth. The 100 Black Men also provide guest speakers and mentors for the AAMP events and members attend the annual diversity barbeque.
Our staff initiatives have also been effective. The athletic department started a program called "Lessons Learned ... or Not," which gathers coaches together to discuss issues related to diversity. For example, in one program, some of our coaches partnered with community business members to make a presentation on recruiting minority student-athletes. The information was not only relevant to recruiting student-athletes, but also applied to recruiting staff.
Another program, "Badger Connection," brings together new employees in an effort to allow them to meet different people within the department. One of the main focuses of this idea is to assist employees from diverse backgrounds in connecting with others. We also advertise to our staff any training and educational opportunities that become available on campus, including the many diversity training initiatives.
Most recently, the athletic department identified the need to better relate and communicate with employees who speak English as their secondary language. An informational session was held for the building and grounds superintendents on the changing workforce and ways we could better accommodate these employees. The university offered "English as a Second Language" classes to all staff, and Spanish classes were offered to supervisors who oversee employees who speak Spanish as their first language.
To ensure that student-athlete diversity programs are meeting the needs of the student-athletes, feedback is gathered through surveys, exit interviews, and one-on-one interaction. Moving forward, we hope to expand the programming and support for other underrepresented populations, such as LGBTQA student-athletes.
Additionally, AAMP will expand to include sophomore, junior, and senior student-athletes. We will search for more collaboration opportunities with organizations on campus, and there will be a focused effort to increase the number of student-athletes and sports participating in governance and decision-making groups, such as SAAC and SAESO.
While the department will continually face challenges in improving the qualitative experience of the diverse student-athlete and staff population, the development of the diversity programming within the department has been a success. DIG has centralized programming efforts, the number of programs offered and participants attending the offerings have increased, and we have developed a better understanding of the needs of our student-athletes and staff.