Celebrating People

October 5, 2017

 

Family.

It's etched on a wood block that K-State's football team runs out of the tunnel with before games. It's printed on a banner K-State's student section spreads out every game, as well as on attire worn by thousands of Wildcat fans.
 
For many years, it's been one word that Wildcat coaches and student-athletes across all sports have touted as the core of K-State's culture.
 
Now, with the launch of its "Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Initiative," K-State Athletics is taking a step to strengthen that family feel.
 
While research shows diverse teams equate to better performances, K-State Director of Student-Athlete Development Arin Dunn said, "This isn't about numbers or statistics. It's about people and empowering people."
 
"Really the goal is to create an environment that's welcoming, that celebrates people's uniqueness and allows people to be who they are. We want to encourage our coaches, student-athletes, staff and administrators to see their unique qualities as strengths and utilize them to create better outcomes. Because we know when we're able to be our true selves, that's when we're able to be our absolute best," added Dunn. "Our mission as educators and coaches is to help develop our student-athletes holistically so that they can be the absolute best version of themselves they can be. But how can we expect them to build confidence and reach their potential when they have to hide or be ashamed of the very things that make them unique?"
 
The initiative is laid out as a five-year, comprehensive plan for both student-athletes and K-State Athletics staff. Ultimately, it is meant to cultivate an atmosphere that embraces and celebrates diversity, while also intentionally promoting and practicing inclusion.
 
"I think the main thing is that when we say 'family' and we're speaking directly about the athletic department and our student-athletes, we want to make sure that all of our student-athletes feel like they're part of the 'family,'" K-State Deputy Athletics Director Jill Shields said. "We think we have some good things in place and some structure to provide some extra support that will hopefully make everyone feel like they're part of this."
 
Athletics Director Gene Taylor, who arrived at K-State while this initiative was being developed, called the effort and its intentions "phenomenal."
 
"To walk into a program that's really committed to that and trying to make it even better, for me it was a really welcoming and was a bright spot early on in my time here," Taylor said. "I see it making people feel good about coming to work here and making student-athletes feel welcome. It's hard if you're an international student-athlete and have never been to Manhattan, Kansas, or even a young man or woman coming from an inner city or larger city with a lot more places to eat, a lot more places to get your haircut, just a lot of different things. Arin and our staff are working really hard to make that much easier."
 
Out of the 450-plus student-athletes at K-State, 46 Wildcats — roughly 10 percent — are international student-athletes who come from a combined 26 different countries. Add in the number of minority student-athletes at K-State and that percentage more than doubles.
 
This plan includes several elements, all of which are meant to help better support those student-athletes. It has also been well received by the very people trying to recruit a diverse talent pool.
 
"Our coaches have been awesome. They know that they work with a diverse population, and they want to make sure that their student-athletes are supported and they have the resources that they need in order to be the best that they can be," Dunn said. "They realize the importance of diversity and inclusion and how it can help everybody be better. The population that they're working with, helping grow and develop is diverse, so they really have taken pride in this initiative and been extremely helpful.
 
"I would also like to thank Gene and Jill for making this a priority. Without support from the top, this would not be possible."
 
The heart of the plan lies in providing educational programming and training aimed at increasing the overall cultural competency of student-athletes and staff.  Education training includes: workshops, guest speakers, diversity and inclusion curriculum in new staff trainings, summer bridge and freshmen experience classes for student-athletes.
 
"The biggest piece of the plans are really the educational components and really trying to make everyone aware of unique qualities that everyone has and really just trying to work on the cultural competency of not only our student-athletes but also our coaches and our staff, too," Shields said. "I think everyone wants to be able to retain student-athletes, and they want to be able to attract people from different ethnic backgrounds and different groups to K-State, but they also need help doing that."
 
K-State Athletics already has a number of programs in place that fit into this plan. These include P.A.L.S. (Positioning Athletes for Life-Long Success), a mentorship program for first-year student-athletes of color; Cats Across Continents, a service learning initiative that sends Wildcats to a country in need; Global Cats, designed to support international student-athletes in their transition; and "Keep it Real" sessions that provide student-athletes and staff with an environment of open dialogue and discussion about current social issues.
 
Additionally, K-State's ASACC (Athletics Staff Administrators, Coaches of Color) group will continue meeting once a month to talk about programming for student-athletes and discuss challenges that people of underrepresented populations face in college athletics.
 
"What I like about it is there's a lot of training and education in there," Dr. Be Stoney, K-State's faculty athletics representative, said. "That's going to be key for this to, one, be successful but also sustainable."
 
Another key component in this initiative is its presence on kstatesports.com.
 
With an entire page on the site dedicated to Diversity and Inclusion, resources within K-State Athletics, on campus and around the community — dining options, international markets, churches and hair care, for example — will be available at the click of a button. Programs that fall within this plan will also be detailed on this page, as will profiles on a variety of diverse K-State student-athletes and coaches.
 
"This task force is going to be putting more resources into our department and letting our student-athletes know that we do care about each individual person and we're here for them," said K-State assistant coach Jessica Smith, who was on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee that Dunn described as "instrumental" in developing this plan.
 
Along with Dunn, Shields, Stoney and Smith, head tennis coach Danielle Steinberg, and director of ticketing Leon Jackson III were on the initiative's committee. Each committee member added a different viewpoint, helping round out the plan to hit on as many needs as possible.
 
"As an athletic department and especially as coaches, I think that our job is to support our student-athletes, and that means that we have to support every student-athlete no matter their background or what their differences may be," Smith said. "We've got to, in many ways, wrap our arms around them and give them an environment where they can feel like they can be themselves and succeed."
 
There is also a branding aspect to this plan. To help reinforce its purpose, K-State will play a video made for this initiative at certain home events, while T-shirts and bracelets with "Family: Diverse & Together" on them will also be available.
 
All of it serves as a reminder of what family truly means at K-State.
 
"Family empowers one another and we want to empower our student-athletes and our staff and our coaches to be the absolute best they can be by being prideful in who they are and what makes them unique," Dunn said. "It's not just language. It's not just a plan. It's part of who we are. It's part of our culture."
 
 
 

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