As the University of Nebraska–Lincoln moves forward with diversity planning and a new commitment to action, Nebraska Today is sitting down with university leaders to explore how inclusive excellence is being folded into day-to-day campus activities.
Since 2019, the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion has worked directly with institutional leaders in multiple ways, including through the Council of Inclusive Excellence and Diversity. Intended to connect colleges, primary campus units and ODI, the council is led by Nkenge Friday, assistant vice chancellor for strategic initiatives, with representation from across the institution.
The work of the council has been pivotal in guiding diversity, equity and inclusion plans university-wide. And, momentum realized through the council is being featured in this Q&A series.
Today, we’re continuing the series with Nebraska Athletics, talking with Lawrence Chatters, executive associate athletic director for diversity, equity and inclusion.
What is the state of diversity, equity and inclusion planning in Nebraska Athletics?
So, the state of diversity, equity and inclusion in Nebraska Athletics is currently loading. We are actually in the middle of developing our strategic planning, which will be a five-year vision for the entire Athletic Department. A foundational piece of that vision will include creating an inclusive environment for all our student-athletics, staff and coaches. We want to be competitively inclusive. Everyone should feel welcome in Nebraska Athletics.
I’ve been in this position for four months now, so I’ve been in listening mode. Our team is assessing where DEI in Athletics is and we’ve started to assess and define our processes. We’ve formed the Nebraska Athletics Inclusion Council, which consists of about 40 people from within our department. They will help with the strategic plan.
There’s also about 40 student-athletes who are part of our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team within Athletics. They represent all of our different athletic programs here at Nebraska. And, we are working with community partners, stakeholders and our colleagues in the Big Ten Conference.
Are elements of the department’s DEI planning already being implemented?
Yes, absolutely. First and foremost, we are making sure that we are coming together to talk about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion in a structured way. That includes our Nebraska Athletics Inclusion Council, giving us a chance to hear about student-athlete concerns and what issues are challenging them. It also includes the Husker Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion team.
We’ve put some standards in place involving our staff’s individual expectations regarding DEI and seeking out appropriate opportunities. And, there’s an evaluation at the end of the year of all of our staff and coaches that seeks details on ways our team have accomplished goals from an inclusive excellence perspective.
Beyond that, we have a webpage on Huskers.com where all of our staff and coaches can find all the specific DEI activities that are happening on campus so they can attend and/or share them with our student-athletes. And there’s a place that they can report to me through Microsoft form, what they’ve done and what they learned at those opportunities.
We’ve completed inclusive workshops to help our staff get to know each other better and, we’ve offered “Lunch and Learns” that have featured experts presenting on various topics — including DEI — to our staff.
Finally, we are planning our annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit for 2022. It will be a moment where our entire department pauses and comes together to talk about issues of inclusion.
How are individuals within Athletics helping advance inclusive excellence?
A key component of those plans becoming a reality is the creation of my position here within the department. I’d like to give credit to DaWon Baker, who is now at Colorado and previously served as our department’s diversity and inclusion director in life skills and enrichment. The structure he put into place and the connections that he made on campus have been extremely helpful in our department moving forward with DEI plans.
I would say that through that foundation and our more current work, we’ve had great buy in so far from our staff around some of the initiatives that we’ve launched. A key one of those is the Nebraska Athletics inclusion Council. The support for the council has been outstanding. We’ve also had several activities that we have brought in experts who have shared through workshops their knowledge in specific areas of DEI.
And, I’d say that our senior staff is all in on creating an inclusive environment here in our department. We recently completed a two-hour workshop on inclusive excellence and, based on reactions from that, I would say everyone is very open to making sure that Nebraska Athletics stay on the front edge of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Is there a part of the plan that is most exciting to you and/or having a positive impact on your college/department/unit?
Yes, so this is a part that I’m really excited to talk about. So, I’ve always been a community-minded person and seek ways in which Nebraska Athletics can directly connect with the community. Normally, resources are a primary barrier to launching these types of programs.
But, here at Nebraska — and I hope everyone have heard about this — we have the Red Carpet Experience. It’s a program that is supported by our donors and provides opportunities for underserved youth across the state to attend our events for free and be a part of Husker Nation.
It’s an opportunity for these youth to be in the Sea of Red while also opening their eyes to the potential of what higher education can provide for them.
We’ve had around 3,000 young people and their families come to football and basketball games free of charge this year. Now, we’re working on expanding the program, with the idea of including more opportunities for them to not only attend our games but to tour campus, see what it truly takes to be a Husker both in our sporting arenas and in the classroom.
It has also been a very positive program for our donors and fans. And, it’s something that has provided a significant amount of positive energy here in our department. Our student-athletes work these events and I have seen the joy that it brings to them to be able to serve the community. It’s a win-win.