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South Carolina's Diversity and Inclusion Committee Continues to Grow

by Brad Muller, Director of Content

The University of South Carolina Athletics Department’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee is not a new entity, but its reach is growing. As the NCAA’s national Diversity and Inclusion three-day social media campaign kicks off on October 27, South Carolina Athletics Chief Diversity Officer Maria Hickman said the department’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee has been more active than ever before.

“We’ve had a committee for about three years now, but this is the most active that it has been,” said Hickman, who chairs the committee. “It is comprised of coaches and staff from within our department. We came up with our own mission. Last year we focused on students, and this year we are more focused on staff and education.

“With more national news focusing on social injustice, it has brought more attention to things we do well and things we can come up a bit, especially for staff.”

The NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee and the national Student-Athlete Advisory Committee sponsors the three-day social media campaign, and South Carolina will be involved in promoting the different themes each day.

Tuesday, Oct. 27 – “My Story Matters”: exploring student-athletes’ identities, perspectives, and experiences
Wednesday, Oct. 28 – “I’ve Got Your Back”: showcasing student-athletes supporting each other to foster inclusive environments
• Thursday, Oct. 29 – “Together We Rise”: outlining personal action steps to inclusive excellence and celebrating collaboration across the campus community

At South Carolina, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee brought together a panel of student-athletes and coaches for a roundtable discussion led by University of South Carolina Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Julian Williams. Fans will see that discussion this week, but the committee’s mission goes far beyond just one discussion and beyond the public facing initiatives fans may have already seen on social media.

The Gamecocks’ 15-member committee has laid out eight goals for the 2020-2021 Academic Year and has already made headway in some areas, including efforts to increase voter registration and participation among staff and student-athletes, monthly mandatory staff meetings dedicated to diversity and inclusion discussions and establishing an advisory board to counsel the department on a variety of local and national matters that impact college athletics.

Here’s a quick look at the committee’s goals for 2020-21:

Implement Harold White Leadership Academy

This is a three-part leadership program that includes a postgraduate internship program, mentorship program for current athletics department staff and community engagement.

Football coach Will Muschamp and men’s basketball coach Frank Martin donated $10,000 to become Ambassadors for the McLendon Minority Leadership Initiative and support South Carolina Athletics’ creation of a 10-month internship for an MLI Future Leader to work within Athletics.

To fill this position, the Gamecocks brought one of their own back to Columbia.

“We have Simone Wark, who used to play soccer here,” Hickman said. “She is here working with student-athlete development and compliance. It’s a chance to give students of color or women opportunities they may not otherwise get.”

Current employees of color will have the chance to take part in a mentorship program with Athletics Administrators in order to gain experience for future advancement in the field. A survey is being sent to identify interested staff to participate. Student-athletes are also being encouraged to take part in a mentorship program with W.G. Sanders elementary school in Columbia.

“Once you learn someone’s background, it helps you understand them a lot better.”
– Maria  Hickman

Increase Vendors Operated by People of Color within the Athletics Department

This academic year we will research our current vendor usage within the department.

“Campus does a lunch and learn, where each month an underrepresented population vendor comes in to present,” Hickman said. “We have someone from our staff attend to expose them to additional vendors within the community. We’re trying to find out how many minority-owned vendors we used in this department, and we’re also trying to educate our purchasing managers on what their options are.”

Implement Diversity and Inclusion Training

The Athletics Department is holding mandatory education sessions for all athletics department staff, and the senior staff is tasked with completing Welcome Table, which includes 12 hours of virtual training.

“One thing I’ve learned throughout the town hall sessions we’ve had for staff this summer is that people just want to talk and have a safe space to express their feelings and also learn,” Hickman said. “We’ll have monthly educational sessions, and it was (Athletics Director) Coach (Ray) Tanner’s idea to make it mandatory. Instead of all-staff meetings, we’ll have diversity training once a month.

“You have to build trust. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but the more that we have them, the more people become comfortable and trust each other. It’s important that we learn from each other. It’s important to learn where other people came from and how they grew up. That’s what shapes them. Once you learn someone’s background, it helps you understand them a lot better.”

A department book club has also been started, which will be open to anyone in Athletics and will meet once per month.

Implement Hiring Education

All Athletics Department hiring mangers will attend a hiring workshop every year, and Athletics Director Ray Tanner will send an email to department heads when a position opens to encourage them to bring in a diverse pool of candidates.

“We are trying to educate anyone who hires,” Hickman said. “We’re trying to create a small workshop to find out what your biases are, make sure your interview questions are correct, and give resources so we can reach those under-represented populations. We want to find ways to attract more women and people of color here.”

Voter Registration Campaign

The Athletics Department implemented a voter registration drive in the hopes of having 100 percent of eligible voters registered for every team.

“We’ve done voter registration tables at the Dodie (Anderson Academic Enrichment Center), a lot of social media, and we had the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee talk to their teams to provide ways to register to vote,” Hickman said. “We had three mandatory education sessions, which talked about how to register, how to do absentee voting, how to read the ballot, and how to find candidates that fit their values. We have some teams that are 100 percent registered.”

Create Athletic Advisory Board

After serving on a campus committee called the Council of Academic Diversity Officers (CADO), Hickman decided that the Athletics Department itself needed something similar.

The advisory board will meet quarterly and was created with key stakeholders from the University campus as well as the community to advise the Athletics Director on local and national matters that may impact the Department.

“This is community members and former student-athletes who can talk to us not only about diversity, but about things that are happening in the community, and what we can do better,” Hickman said.  

Complete Diversity and Inclusion Department Review

The NCAA mandated last year that all schools will conduct an equity, diversity and inclusion review at least once every five years and provide written confirmation of completion to the national office.  South Carolina Athletics will secure an outside entity to provide its expertise in creating a detailed analysis, which will be reviewed by the Committee, Senior Staff, and the Athletic Advisory Board.

“From that we will do a five-year strategic plan,” Hickman said.  “I want a long-term goal for the department and that will come from that analysis.”

Complete Climate Survey for the Department

empowerment activity from SHERO last fall
Empowerment activity from SHERO last year.

A survey is currently in the works to send to all Athletics Department staff to assist in education and understanding the culture within the department.

“I thought I had a good idea of what our culture was,” Hickman said. “I realized that we do a great job of surveying our students and our coaches in how they feel and what they need, but we don’t ask our staff. So, we needed to survey our whole staff to get a big picture of what our culture is and where our staff really is. We’re working on coming up with questions for that now and hope to have that go out at the beginning of next year.”

In pursuit of achieving the goals outlined above, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee breaks into subgroups to tackle the mission and get involved in events centered around diversity and inclusion.

Thanks to previous years of the committee focused on student-athletes, SAAC has also developed  student-led groups such as (S).H.E.R.O. (She is Honorable, Empowering, Resilient, and Owns It), which promotes leadership, mentoring, inclusion and fellowship, and G.A.M.E (Gamecock Athletes Magnifying Excellence), which was created to provide a support network and resources for student-athletes of color at the University.

“(S)H.E.R.O. is about women’s empowerment and how to find your voice and how to support each other,” Hickman said.  “It’s a group for women to come together and support each other and teach them how to use their voice.

“G.A.M.E. is something we started in January for our students of color. Being at a predominantly white institution, a lot of student-athletes will say, ‘I’m the only black on my team,’ or ‘I’m the only one in my class,’ and they struggle fitting in on campus.”

Between the local and national activities, South Carolina Athletics looks forward to student-athletes, administrators, coaches, and fans having healthy discussions about diversity and inclusion.